Isabella Santos Foundation Receives $250,000 Gift by The JEM Foundation

We are extremely overwhelmed with gratitude to announce a $250,000 gift graciously donated to ISF by The JEM Project.  This organization was set to be our presenting sponsor for our 2-day coffee events and stepped up to make an even larger impact during a time of crucial lost revenue for us.

During this time, concerned for our future and our ability to impact kids fighting cancer, we want to remind everyone how essential nonprofits like us are.  Pediatric cancer doesn’t stop, no matter what is going on in the world, and neither will we.  

Thank you JEM Project.  It’s hard to put into words how grateful we are for the impact you are creating for kids fighting rare pediatric cancer and for our community.  Not to mention the difference you have made on each of us at the foundation. You have given us the ability to put one foot in front of the other, during this difficult time and continue our mission.  We are so humbled and appreciative of your organization. Follow along this week as we share ‘Thank You’ letters from many of those who feel the incredible significance of this gift.

Isabella’s Mom, Erin, shares first how powerful this impact is for her personally…

I hit it off with Leah in about 10 minutes over lunch.  We connected on all things family, life and cancer. Listening to her tell her family’s cancer story just proved to me, as it does time and time again, we all have a story to tell.  It isn’t until you lose someone from cancer, that you really understand the importance of funding. We always appreciated all the family services that were provided to us when our daughter was going through cancer.  Gas cards, dinners, gifts for our kids – all necessary parts of the process. But when your daughter dies – it became crystal clear to me why she died. There weren’t enough people out there overflowing research buckets with money.   Then you meet more and more kids, and their stories remind you of your own – you become close to these families and you see the look in their eye. They are scared, just as you were – but they look at you and the look in their eyes says… “please hurry”.  Our Foundation lost one of our closest patients (Madison) in December of 2019. It rattled us all to our core and it was the first time I thought about quitting my job. It wasn’t happening fast enough and I felt the blame for this little girl not surviving.  My own daughter would tell me over and over again how proud she was of me because the job I was doing was saving little girls like Madison. And then we didn’t save her. I wondered what we were even doing anymore if we couldn’t save this one I REALLY needed to save.  I have to say, I checked out. I had to do some true soul searching.  

Fast forward to mid January.  Our team was pissed. We were hurt.  We decided that we needed to make big changes.  Like my daughter, I felt like Madison was taken to change people.  I couldn’t ignore how similar this situation felt. The feeling of wanting to just walk away – not allowing yourself to change because you don’t want to feel this pain every day.  But instead, I allowed Madison to change me. 7 years after my daughter passed away – a little girl was brought into my life and then taken from us – a reminder of why this whole thing started 13 years ago.  We started planning.  

Our 2 day coffee event was looming and I have never seen my team so excited.  We felt like we had a purpose. Madison’s mother had agreed to speak and I knew it would be one of the most difficult things she would ever do.   As a team we set a goal. $250,000 over two days. Not only were we going to continue our mission to bring the top doctor in the nation who specializes in rare cancers to Charlotte, but we were also adding in trials in honor of Madison to help change outcomes for kids with Osteosarcoma.  We were ready. Our two day event was filling up, our sponsor list was bigger than ever and our program was set.

And then it hit.  As each day passed we felt our event slipping through our fingers.  At first it felt like a train coming right at us that we were trying to derail, but no matter what we did – it just kept speeding up.  I knew we had to make the call. The word had just come out that gatherings of over 50 people were prohibited. My stomach just dropped.  It was the first week in March and our event was a little over 2 weeks away. I was out of town and found myself taking long walks – wondering how to shake this feeling that we were letting Madison down…again.  How could this be?

Then Leah from The JEM Project called.  

I feel like the call was a blur.  I just remember sitting in my room once the call ended and crying.  In 13 years of the Foundation I have never received a call like this.  You would think receiving money for rare pediatric cancer would be easy, but it’s not.  People don’t really understand unless they have lived it. But for the first time, someone got it.  They didn’t have to bury their own child to get it either. The money we received from the JEM project saved us all.  Not only did it allow us to continue with our mission but in a way I feel like it saved me the most. My daily struggle of wondering if I am ready to move on.  Am I still making a difference? Can I look at these families and tell them that we are in fact hurrying because their kids are just as important to me as mine was?  This money did all that for me. It kept my team alive, it kept these families alive – it kept Isabella’s dream alive.  

Dear JEM Project…

Jessica, I have never had the pleasure of meeting you – but I hope one day I will.  I want you to know how meaningful this donation was to so many people. You have such an unbelievable opportunity to change peoples lives forever.  The lives of kids, their parents and families and all of us who are trying to save them. The work you do blows me away when I see all the organization you are assisting.  You are a lifesaver and no thank you I can ever say will truly convey how I feel. It has left me speechless – which rarely happens.

Leah, words can’t describe what meeting you has done to me.  Thank you for “getting it” and believing in me. I promise to never let you down.  You have been a person who has come into my life and changed things forever.  

The state of our country scares me.  I fear that people will forget that cancer never stops, even during all this.  If we forget about organizations like ISF right now, who will be there for these kids when they need it the most?  I pray our community will rally around us and remember that we are ESSENTIAL. We can’t stop. Lives depend on it.

My hope is this is just the beginning of our relationship with the JEM project.  I am excited to keep you both informed of what we are doing and how your money is working because there is so much more we want to do.  Stay tuned. We are just getting started.

All my love and forever thanks,

Erin (Isabella’s Mommy)


Dear JEM Project: Your Donation is Giving Children Fighting Cancer Time (Isabella’s Grandma)

Dear JEM Project: Thank You for Being the Team Who Kept Madison’s & ISF’s Mission on Course (Madison’s Mom)

Dear JEM Project: Thank You for Your Contribution To Our Goal of Finding a Cure (Madison’s Dad)

Dear JEM Project: Thank You for Donating in My Sister’s Name (Madison’s Sister)

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