12/20/2010 01:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bringing the Dream Full Circle

After my child died, I sat alone for months trying to assimilate emotions I had never felt before and deciding how to move forward. The result was the establishment of a foundation that bears my teenage son's name.

The Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation's mission is to help single parents in their struggle with a terminally-ill child. Parents having to face their child's medical crisis alone, namely single parents, bear the greatest burden, but so too do intact families. They face the horrific statistic of breaking up under the emotional and financial stress 78 percent of the time; that's eight out of ten families.

Our work has matured and become national over the past ten years. The letter that I just received from the Dixon family is the culmination of my fondest dreams and greatest hopes for our work. Parents Karl and Cindi mirror back exactly our intended mission; they write on the first anniversary of the death of their daughter, Chameka.

I hope that your dreams will also come full circle as mine have, whether you dream of corporate success, a shining private career, philanthropic endeavor or good health for your family. May you be blessed and feel the satisfaction of giving this holiday season.


Dearest Valerie,

We wanted to reach out to you on the one-year anniversary of our daughter Chameka's death. If it were not for your loving support and strength, not to mention financial support during the most difficult time in our lives we cannot imagine where we would be right now.

The generosity and time Courtney, Anne and you so generously gave to us allowed us to keep our home while we cared for daughter. She spent the last year and a half of her life in ICU and we had to close our small business down to be by her side, and to care for our other three children. Chameka was diagnosed with head and neck cancer just after turning 20 and the tumor grew so quickly her voice and ability to eat were taken from her almost immediately.

Chameka was a part time college student studying to become a special education teacher while she worked part time. When she was diagnosed she was dropped from our insurance because she was not a full time college student. We had two other children starting college and used all of the little savings we had very early on. By the second year of her illness we fell behind on our house payment and were juggling between groceries and our children's needs, trying to pay mounting medical bills and expenses, and trying to keep the lights and water on at home. There were days we barely had gas to get to the hospital and would stay for 12 or more hours without money for food for us. Things were very bleak for us and getting worse fast.

In a desperate attempt to get emergency help to keep our power on we came across many foundations who claimed to offer assistance. We spent precious hours we didn't have searching for stacks of documents to prove our need. After many meetings with county and state agencies and talking with others, no one would help us. Andre River of Life was our last cry for help.

From the very first phone call we made we were given the first encouraging words we had heard in over a year. Within hours help was on the way and we had an unimaginable burden lifted. I have to take a moment to say that if you have not experienced life and death matters of a child where several times a day you have to make 'guesses' about treatments that impact whether they live a few months longer and the quality of that time, it is not possible in words or on paper to explain the devastating loss and terrifying fear that takes over. Hopefully no one ever has to experience this again, but if they have to there is help. Even looking back it is hard for us to remember the darkness and fear that consumed us as parents. It makes it very difficult to get out of bed, care for other children or ourselves.

Everyone at ASRL stepped in to talk with us, help prepare us for the inevitable, and provide a distant but profound hope for the future that somehow life would go on and we would get through this. Anne and Courtney worked tirelessly with our mortgage company to negotiate our payments so they wouldn't foreclose on us and the day after we reached you, our electric bill was paid. There are so many things I could say, I could go on and on, but one of the most important things about ASRL is the way they work with families. They didn't humiliate us or cause us additional time and stress requesting mountains of paperwork. They worked with our social worker and allowed us to keep our dignity.

Most importantly, Valerie helped us to understand this tragic event in a way that only someone who has experienced something similar can. She was available each and every time we needed her and she walked us through the unconscionable things happening. Up until the end her words of encouragement, practicality and spirituality gave us the glimmer of hope we needed to go on as parents and be strong for our other children and each other. Honestly, if it were not for her support and the support of ASRL we have no idea where our family would be today or even if we would still be together.

One year later, we are on our way to rebuilding our lives without the physical presence of our beloved daughter, but she is here with us all in everything we do. As Valerie told us many times, our lives are not the same and the experience will never leave us, but we have moved on and we live each day to the fullest loving each other and helping others as much as possible.

With our deepest love,

Karl and Cindi Dixon, Tatianna, Cristian and Karl Jr.