St. Peters-based Stella’s Wish Foundation helps make wishes come true for terminally ill cancer patients
By Brett Auten
Shelly Barr will never forget it.
Barr’s close friend, Lisa Drummond has Stage 4 Metastatic Colorectal Cancer. Drummond lost her middle son in 2016 and he left behind two sons, the eldest of which lives in Las Vegas. Drummond yearned to see her grandson once again, as the last time they met was it her son’s – and his dad’s – funeral.
“She did not want to be remembered as some grief-stricken woman,” Barr said.
That’s where Stella’s Wish Foundation stepped in and calmly said, “We got this.”
Just last month, flights were booked, Blue Man Group tickets were purchased and Barr was right by her friend’s side as Drummond reconnected with her grandson.
“The whole thing was heart melting,” Barr said. “It was nothing short of amazing. It was a whirlwind that we were not expecting to come to fruition. And Lisa made it through by sheer determination and will.”
Stella’s Wish Foundation is a St. Peters-based nonprofit foundation fully funded by sponsors, donors and fundraisers. It began granting wishes in Missouri, but soon branched to grant wishes across the United States. Since February 2008 Stella’s Wish Foundation has been searching to grant wishes and to collect charitable donations which are used to grant wishes for terminally ill cancer patients, ages 18-and-above.
Wishes that have been granted thus far range from a catered family gathering to Alaskan cruises with loved ones. There has been the backyard carnival in Troy, Christmas in October and surprise hospital visit by pro wrestling superstar Kevin Nash.
The charity’s namesake and inspiration comes from the story of Stella Czerniewski.
Upon receiving the news in June 2006 that her colon cancer had reached stage four, Stella decided to live her last days to their fullest and in doing so, created a Top Ten List. Among the items on that list was a trip to Disney World. Stella played a vital role in at her church, Victory Baptist Church in Florissant, including Sunday school secretary, special musician, choir member, organ player and bus worker.
It was a teenager from her church who surprised Stella by making her wish of going to Disney World come true. Stella was inspired to launch a foundation which granted wishes for adults who were diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. On Jan. 18, 2007, Stella lost her battle with colon cancer. To honor the final wish of his wife, Don Czerniewski began Stella’s Wish Foundation a little over a year later.
“The most vivid memory, and one I will likely never forget, is Stella’s doctor’s appointment she had the day after Christmas 2006,” Don Czerniewski said. “During the appointment, we received the devastating news Stella had only months to live. Upon leaving the appointment, Stella wanted to go to lunch. True to her character, after lunch she asked if we could go shopping to buy some gifts for her friends. She never thought of herself, and she never complained about her illness. She knew God was in control. That’s my Stella.”
Don Czerniewski serves as the President of Stella’s Wish Foundation. He retired at the end of 2018 in part so that he can put more energy toward the project. At the first of each month, he and the small, six-member board circle the wagons and vote on four-to-five wishes they will try to fulfill for the month. Thanks to a partnership with O’Fallon’s Jan’s Travel and Cruise, some of the more elaborate trips are managed fairly easily.
“Sometimes it as easy as buying a recliner,” Don said. “One of the last ones we did was just a video conference. We get 30-to-50 requests a month, so you can imagine how hard it is to choose.”
Upcoming is the Second Annual Stella’s Wish Foundation 5K Run/Walk at 370 Lakeside Park on May 4. On June 8, The Falls Golf Club in O’Fallon will host the Stella’s Wish Golf Outing. The biggest fundraiser of the year occurs on Sept. 20 with the 7th Annual Dinner Auction held at The Christy Banquet Center in O’Fallon.
“We are always trying to do more to help more people,” Don said. “We’re always looking for sponsors as 95-percent of our funds come from these events.”
For more information on these events and anything Stella’s Wish-related, visit www.stellaswish.org.
CUTLINE: Submitted photo Stella’s Wish Foundation was able to help cancer patient Lisa Drummond (center) travel to Las Vegas to reconnect with her grandson (right) and attend a performance by the Blue Man Group.