March 21, 2014
Jennifer Wilks was just 14 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. During 3½ years of cancer treatments, Jennifer underwent three bone marrow transplants and spent a total of 412 days hospitalized, both in Austin and Houston medical centers.
Jennifer’s treatment course was long and difficult. Going through cancer was tough on their daughter, but Tim describes her as a shining star. “Jennifer was energetic and just full of life. Her smile would light up a room.”
Through her battle with cancer, Tim says Jennifer discovered a passion to help other children with cancer and their families. “She would say, ‘someday it’s what I want to do,’ and I told her, ‘don’t worry, you will.’ That was her strength.”
Jennifer passed away in 2005 at the tender age of 17, but her dream of helping other children has come true. In 2006, the family established the Jennifer Wilks Foundation in her honor to raise funds for the charities that helped put a smile on her face during her battle with leukemia. Since then, they’ve raised more than $300,000 through annual golf events, Texas Hold-Em poker tournaments, corporate sponsorships, and donations.
The foundation exists to help children and families fighting childhood cancers at Dell Children’s. Tim and Mary provide friendship and support to CBCC patients and their families in many ways.
Each year the foundation supports the CBCC Hungry Bunch teen group, which was one of Jennifer’s favorite activities. “Jennifer always looked forward to Hungry Bunch events. The Halloween party was a highlight,” says Mary.
Tim remembers frequent trips to Houston during Jennifer’s illness and appreciates an organization that provided meals once a month for patients and families in the hospital. “Jennifer hated hospital food, so we thought it was special. I looked forward to those dinners. We decided to identify the needs at Dell Children’s.”
They rallied support of several local restaurants that generously donate or offer huge discounts on food. On Wednesday evenings, the Wilks deliver dinners to 4 North inpatients and their families. For the past 6-7 years, they’ve fed between 1,500-2,000 cancer patients and their families annually at Dell Children’s.
They also provide holiday dinners to patients and their families spending Christmas at Dell Children’s. Last year was the biggest party to date. They served a delicious steak and chicken dinner, sides, and desserts to 145 people—all completely donated and served on white tablecloths. They also showered gifts upon 45 patients and their siblings. “It’s what Christmas is all about,” says Tim.
Each year the foundation provides funding so Dell Children’s patients can receive wishes through Make-a-Wish. Tim and Mary also donate video systems and games to the CBCC outpatient clinic, volunteer as camp counselors for Camp Rocky Ridge, and chaperone monthly Hungry Bunch events.
Tim and Mary hope to spread awareness about the desperate need for bone marrow donors. Bone marrow is removed through the arm and is just like giving blood, says Tim, but there remains a severe shortage. “With more donors, we could give more children a chance to live.”
The Wilks are committed to caring for families, just like others cared for them during Jennifer’s illness. “The Jennifer Wilks Foundation makes us feel like it’s what Jennifer would want us to do,” says Tim. “She’s helping many families and there’s no doubt she’s left her mark on Central Texas.”