Last winter feels like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? When Saratoga Living unveiled our inaugural Saratoga Gives Back list and event in December 2019, we had the luxury of throwing a classy launch party, during which we were able to rub elbows with our honored guests, giving them the royal treatment in front of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Thousands of dollars were raised for the honorees’ organizations, and all was merry and bright.
This year, our 10 newest honorees—five in Saratoga Living, five in Capital Region Living—are working under much more trying circumstances (i.e. the pandemic) in a year when their organizations are hurting a little bit more than usual. That, and we’ve traded rubbing elbows for 20-second handwashing.
So our newly minted Capital Region Gives Back event, which we’ll be hosting on December 10, will look a little different this year, due to COVID restrictions. But the endgame will be the same: raising money for great Spa City causes. (To get tickets to the event, click here.)
Join Saratoga Living as we honor our 2020 class of givers.
Powerhouse super-mom Heather Straughter co-founded Jake’s Help From Heaven with her husband, Brian, as a coping mechanism for the overwhelming grief she felt after their beloved son, who was fighting a rare and debilitating illness, passed away in December 2010 at the age of 4. Over the years, the nonprofit has helped more than a thousand families with children with chronic illnesses and disabilities, with Straughter often having the greatest impact simply by showing up as “Jake’s mom.”
But this year was different. “The hardest thing now with COVID is missing out on the personal connections,” Straughter says. “When someone needs an adaptive bike or chair, we order it, put together the items and personally deliver. But with COVID, we’ve had to stop the deliveries. Sometimes moms hug me and cry when they realize it’s me, Jake’s mom. Their existence is normal to me, so there’s that connection.”
Having walked in those moms’ shoes for four years, Straughter understands on the deepest level what it’s like being your child’s full-time advocate, all while balancing 24/7 caretaking duties with “normal” family life. “It was so important to us as a family to be a family,” she says about herself, Brian and Jake’s older brother by a year, Ethan. “That means having the right stroller, so that when Ethan was playing soccer, it could get in the dirt, and Jake could watch the game. At Jake’s Help From Heaven, we give normal family experiences to people.”
The organization also provides services such as transportation to treatments and help with medical costs, and increased its offerings this year. “In April, we started the COVID Emergency Fund,” Straughter says. “There’s so much going on during this pandemic—a child can’t get care, or a parent lost a job. With these kids, you have to be extra careful.”