When their oldest daughter, Alyssa, was diagnosed with brain stem cancer, their co-workers donated time off so Lori Bruno could stay home with Alyssa without losing pay. When medical bills mounted, friends and Henrietta neighbors hosted fundraisers. When Alyssa needed cheer for her sixth birthday, a teacher sent an email requesting cards and lucky pennies. Tens of thousands of people from around the world responded.
So, when Alyssa passed away shortly after that birthday, it made sense for the Brunos to start a foundation in her memory and help other families.
“When you’re worrying about a child being sick, you certainly don’t want to have to worry about the bills coming at the end of the month,” said Chris Bruno, father to Alyssa and now to Addison, who is 3 and looks like her sister.
“Alyssa taught us about living life to the fullest and about helping people out,” he said, and now Alyssa’s Angels has given gift cards and other support to hundreds of people who were in danger of falling through the cracks.
The foundation hosts fundraisers throughout the year, like an Easter egg hunt and an upcoming euchre tournament. There’s no paid staff. No agency overhead. It’s a simple, streamlined process. “I take pride in that the assistance goes directly to families in need,” Bruno said.
I imagine it’s good to give back, healing in fact, for a family that will always grieve – and I know it’s comforting to me to know that Alyssa is still inspiring people.
While I never met Alyssa, I covered her story from the time she first started treatment until it was time for me to write her too-soon obituary. I did my best to honor her memory in that final piece, but I remember being not quite satisfied with it. I felt I had missed something I couldn’t name. Now I know. Her story wasn’t done.
Some day the Brunos will take Addison to a storage building that holds thousands of birthday cards and letters.
“When she’s older, we’ll let her read them so she knows how important her sister was,” Chris Bruno said. “She’ll understand one day.”
I’m sure she will.
To learn more about Alyssa’s Angels, visit: http://www.alyssasangels.org/