As John Lederer and Wendy Letow sit at a table in a modest office in Columbia, the combined forces of good emanating from these two people is nearly overwhelming. They are discussing the merger of two nonprofits: the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation (ZACF) and The Little Things for Cancer (TLT4C).
Lederer, whose son Zachary started the “Zaching” movement that led to ZACF before he passed away, and Letow, executive director of TLT4C, bring to the table a history of personal loss that is somehow eclipsed by their sense of hope.
They trace their first meeting to a common friend: Robert Andelman, president of Columbia-based Nightmare Graphics, and his father, Sam, past president and founder of Nightmare.
The screen printing and embroidery company had designed a logo and a T-shirt for Zaching Against Cancer. “We looked at the logo and loved it, and at that first meeting, we talked to Sam and Robert about our idea of starting a foundation, which later became Zaching Against Cancer,” said Lederer. “But as early as that very first conversation, they brought up Little Things For Cancer.”
As the foundation came together, Robert Andelman served on the ZACF board. “After every board meeting, he would still bring up Little Things for Cancer,” recalled Lederer, “so we sent them a check to help them out. Wendy called us and wanted to meet with us.”
How the Merger Will Work
At that time, Letow said, she had no real intention of combining forces — but definitely had strong intentions of working together.
“Then we started to talk about merger opportunity, and this is where we are,” said Lederer. “They do fit a big niche in our organization [that] we were hoping to fill.”
ZACF’s mission is to provide support, strength, inspiration and positive influences to cancer patients and their support networks through scholarships, internships and cancer research funding. The “Zaching Against Cancer” movement became an Internet-based hit when Zach Lederer, a University of Maryland student and manager of the men’s basketball team, and his supporters photographed and recorded his “strong arm” pose as he battled brain cancer. Lederer, who died on March 11, 2014, at age 20, remains an inspiration to many cancer patients and their families.
TLT4C’s niche is offering support to cancer patients and their caregivers based on unique needs that might be considered small to some but add up to big stress: prescription payment assistance, complementary therapies, utility bill assistance, transportation, childcare, copayments, housecleaning, meals and more.
TLT4C will not lose its identity as it joins ZACF but will become a program under the ZACF umbrella — “a common umbrella that retains both logos,” said Letow.
As Lederer envisions a foundation that grows beyond Maryland’s borders, Letow also envisions TLT4C expanding its reach beyond the three current states in which it has a presence: Maryland, Florida and Massachusetts.
The boards of both nonprofits will begin meeting as a combined entity.
Busy People, Big Hearts
Lederer and Letow also share a sense of compassion that comes from two busy people with big hearts for what they do. They talk about their staff — people who help assess the needs, grant writers, event coordinators — with a sense of gratefulness.
“Everyone is in it because their hearts are in it,” said Letow. “When I started this, I didn’t think it would be a full-time job.”
As he continued to grow the foundation, Lederer realized he wanted to help cancer patients and their families on a more direct level while continuing the foundation’s other work. “We wanted to broaden our reach to the hospitals, and TLT4C will allow us to do that.”
Through its partnerships with hospitals, TLT4C provides funds on a quarterly basis that are administered by one person at the hospital — usually a social worker — who knows well the needs of cancer patients and their families or caregivers.
Ideas for Expansion
As Lederer and Letow discuss ideas for expanding their work, the ideas surface quickly. Some are already taking place: ZACF is expanding its funding stream to support a research project out of Baylor University in Texas.
A partnership with the Ronald McDonald House is also a possibility, said Lederer. “It would also be nice to have some partnerships with hotel chains that could provide rooms for caregivers throughout the country,” he added, “and with regard to transportation, we are thinking about linking up with Uber to get folks to chemo and to hospitals.”
The bottom line is, both Lederer and Letow want to help an increasing number of people. “How can we do more? We keep coming up with ideas,” said Lederer. He and Letow agreed that having a diverse board will help them carry forth a good number of those ideas with strategic thinking and sound growth.
Beyond the business side of this merger, the personal pain and triumphs are close to the surface for Lederer and Letow.
“We are helping a patient named Jamie,” said Letow. “She has brain cancer. She’s been fighting for three years. Stage 4. She’s always smiling. She’s amazing.”
Lederer looks at her across the table: “We lost one this week that we were supporting, 15 years old.”
As they talk about the tough days, they still send a message of hope — one that they have now pledged to send together: “As horrible as it is, there are so many people who survive. There are so many success stories. Please. Help us tell them,” said Letow.