When tasked to create a community action project for a school assignment, Emily Flachman decided to honor her late grandmother, Nancy Fink.
“She survived breast cancer and leukemia,” said Emily, 12, of San Luis Obispo. “But she lost her battle to pancreatic cancer.”
So while other kids set off to help animals or pick up trash, Emily started Kids4Kures, a greeting card business that would generate proceeds for cancer patients. Two years later, Emily is the CEO — “creative, enthusiastic organizer,” she says — of Kids4Kures, and she hopes to create a network of “card angels” who will help the charity grow.
“I hope when I go to college I can continue this, and hopefully, have card angels everywhere,” she said.
The concept began at Teach Elementary School, where the honors student, then in fifth grade, was required to create a project for the community. While her grandmother had died of cancer in 2004, several other family members and family friends have also battled the disease.
“She sees the impact that cancer can have on families,” said Peaches Olson, a family friend.
After taking her suggestion to her parents, Emily’s family agreed that Olson would be a perfect artist for the job. A freelance artist, she not only had experience making cards, but she also had experience with cancer, having survived breast and throat cancer.
As foreboding as the disease can be, Olson said, a cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world.
“Cancer can be dealt with,” said Olson, whose husband has battled leukemia. “With every bump, you either learn from it and get something out of it, or you stay stagnant.”
With that in mind, Emily wanted the cards to be positive. Typically, she said, she’ll send ideas to Olson, who then creates the watercolor artwork.
“I was trying to get inspiration for every single card that I did,” Emily said. “And I could come up with an idea, and I’d tell Peaches about it. And she’d do all the designs.”
Or, as Olson put it, “I always paint the cards, and she decides if she likes them or not.”
On the back of each card, Emily writes a phrase that goes with the artwork.
In a card inspired by Emily’s paternal grandmother, Olson created a colorful folk-art angel, flying through the air with long-stemmed flowers. On the back of the card is the inscription “My Angel, Grandma Nancy” — Emily’s inspiration to found Kids4Kures.
When asked to describe how she came up with the idea, Emily became choked up. So her mother, Jennifer, answered.
“She was an angel,” she said of Emily’s grandmother. “The kids watched her embrace her life and suffer through cancer.”
Another card features a boy turned toward the stars, his arms outstretched. On the back, Emily wrote, “All brothers and sisters should be happy and healthy.”
Other cards feature a girl with heart-shaped flowers, a heart with wings and a girl on a ladder, beneath hanging hearts.
“I like them because they’re unique and they just put you in a good mood,” said Emily, now a Laguna Middle School seventh-grader.
So far, the $7,000 she has raised from the sales has gone to the Hearst Cancer Research Center at French Hospital Regional Medical Center and to help individuals like Laney Lemus, a 20-year-old Nipomo woman battling a rare kidney cancer.
“She chooses who the funds go to,” Olson said.
Meanwhile, Emily has talked with an attorney about the guidelines for creating a nonprofit. And her cards can be found at the gift shop at French Hospital, local businesses and the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, where she recently spoke to a crowd of business people about Kids4Kures.
While few kids address the Chamber of Commerce, Olson thinks Emily’s youth helps generate awareness.
“I think a lot of people listen to kids more than adults,” she said.
In between school and acrobatic gymnastics, Emily also maintains a Kids4Kures blog at www.kids4kures.org.
But she admits she doesn’t talk about her project to classmates at school.
“I don’t think they’ll really understand why I’m doing it and how important it is to find a cure for cancer,” she explained.
But she knows. And, given the resilience of cancer, Emily said she doesn’t plan to halt her efforts any time soon.
“Cancer doesn’t ever take a rest,” she said.