When Casey Baynes was a little girl, she remembers walking along the beach in Ocean City collecting shells with her mother. Baynes kept choosing broken shells, and her mother asked her, "Why are you picking up those ones? They're not whole." The girl replied, "Well, I think they're perfect. Would you throw me back if I was cracked?"
She grew up to launch the Casey Cares Foundation, which, since 2000, has helped more than 3,500 critically ill children and their families with birthday celebrations, tickets to events, vacations, and other diversions most families take for granted.
Baynes, now 29 and a married mother of three, grew up in Harford County. With a B.A. from Salisbury State, she went on to become the youngest master's degree recipient at Towson University in 1998 at age 21. After graduating, Baynes worked in the nonprofit sector for several years before going to work for her family's business, Wollenwebber Trucking and Warehouse in Arbutus. But Baynes missed the sense of fulfillment she got from charity work. So in 2000, she launched the Casey Cares Foundation.
Today, the nonprofit is staffed by eight employees in donated warehouse space in Baltimore; Baynes serves as executive director, but has never taken a salary. With the help of board members from companies including Deutsche Bank Alex Brown, Ferris, Baker Watts, Inc., MedStar Health, and Merrill Lynch, Casey Cares has grown from helping a few families in Baltimore to serving six states. The foundation helps eligible families referred to them by doctors and social workers at various hospitals in the mid-Atlantic.
If the mission of the Casey Cares Foundation sounds similar to those of other nonprofits, that's because it is. While Baynes is clear to state that she applauds those organizations for their work, she feels that critically ill kids need all the help they can get. She also felt there was still a need for "everyday pleasantries" not only for the children but for their families as well.
The Seacrists of Havre de Grace are one of those families. Alianna, 7, was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2004 for what was thought to be a seizure. The day before her release, she went into respiratory failure, says her mother, Bobbie. "She literally was not breathing, her heart wasn't beating. She was dead." Alianna was revived, and diagnosed with gastroparesis—a condition in which the muscles of the stomach don't function normally to propel food through the digestive tract. There is no known cure.
Alianna is currently about 20 pounds underweight for her age, and though she can eat small amounts of food during the day, must be fed through a tube at night. Bobbie, who lives with her parents, homeschools Alianna and her sister, Dakotah, 9. Through the foundation, the entire family has enjoyed pizza nights at home, movies out, and even a most-expenses-paid trip to Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens in Virginia. "If it wasn't for [Casey Cares], we wouldn't have gotten to do it," says Bobbie. "After you deal with what we deal with, you need to get away for awhile."
Baynes says she tries hard to meet as many of a family's needs as possible. She discovered that parents would sometimes turn down tickets to an event because they couldn't afford the added cost of parking and refreshments for the whole family. Casey Cares' Family Festivities program aims to provide those "extras."
Other offerings include the foundation's Birthday Blast program, where kids are surprised with a special delivery of balloons, flowers, or cookies. "We believe birthdays are a milestone for critically ill children," says Pam Goode, communications director for Casey Cares. The Better Together program reaches out to families for a year after they've lost a child or their child is in remission.
Perhaps even more significant is the personal connection the staff tries to make with each family it serves. And to Bobbie Seacrist, for one, that makes a real difference. "There has to be a special place in heaven for Casey," she says.
For more information about Casey Cares Foundation: