Just before her 29th birthday, Rachel Swick of Forest Junction was diagnosed with cancer. It was, of course, a daunting time for the young woman facing not only treatments but a mountain of medical bills as well.
While Swick’s church offered to host a fundraiser for her, Community Benefit Tree was able to increase the draw by more than tenfold. CBT’s mission is empowering families to navigate medical debt. Since 2004, the Kaukauna-based nonprofit has raised more than $3.2 million for families throughout Northeast Wisconsin.
“There was a great need out there to help people put on benefits (fundraisers) successfully,” says CBT Director Heidi Frederickson. “We’ve grown into being that overall support system for the family … resources, education, emotional support.”
For Swick, CBT worked with her church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Appleton, to host a fundraiser at the Darboy Club. While her church regularly hosts such events and might raise up to $5,000, with CBT’s expertise, the event raised almost $60,000.
“I’m forever grateful,” Swick says of the event held four years ago. “They were able to get the word out a little bit more.”
The origins of CBT are rooted in a personal connection for Frederickson. Every year for the past 28 years, the Larry Wolfinger Charity Golf Outing has helped those in need. The event was named after Frederickson’s father, a business owner in Kaukauna who died at age 54 of a heart attack.
“My dad was a small business owner and very community oriented,” Frederickson says.
After many years of planning the golf outing, Frederickson and her mother, Karla Wolfinger, were “led by the grace of God to help out more families … and started the Community Benefit Tree. It’s a Christian-based organization. We do what we do because God calls us to do it.”
CBT serves families of all denominations and helps around 350 each year.
“When (families) do contact us, it has to pertain to financial assistance … not just medical bills, but it’s also basic needs,” Frederickson says.
When looking at the money raised, 45 percent is used to cover medical costs, 20 percent goes to housing, 15 percent each goes to food and vehicle costs, and 5 percent goes to cover utility bills.
Swick, for example, used some CBT funds to purchase gas cards since much of her treatment required travel to Milwaukee.
In addition to hosting benefits, CBT helps with researching grants, crowdfunding and other possible revenue sources for families. Along with donations, CBT receives funding from the United Way and the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation.
“It’s helping (the patients and their families) navigate all the possibilities of what’s out there,” Frederickson says.
CBT programs are provided at no charge to those in need with the exception of fundraising. The nonprofit receives 10 percent of the funds raised at events it helps plan. Frederickson says if CBT’s fundraising tools are used correctly, they can help the patient raise 30 percent more money than if family supporters would organize their own fundraising event. The 10 percent collected helps CBT continually help more families.
The nonprofit supports all of its fundraisers by listing them on its website, which provides an easy way for people to donate. Frederickson says CBT differs from crowdfunding websites, such as GoFundMe, in that it helps support events and provides accountability about funds raised and how they are used. In addition, a group of people works with the family to help it remain financially sustainable during a medical crisis.
Today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBT is using its Cure from Despair Fund to help people facing hardships due to unemployment and related issues. “It doesn’t just affect the person with the condition. It affects their entire family; it affects everybody,” Frederickson says.
“The world is experiencing what our families have experienced every day in their medical crises — uncertainty, fear, hopelessness, financial woes and health challenges. This pandemic is taking a toll on everyone and every business, large and small,” Frederickson says. “It is so vital at a time of great tragedy to find the triumph in it, and that triumph is coming together and supporting each other during our time of crisis.
“It’s (important to have a) partner that provides relief and hope that they’re going to get through this,” she says.