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Everyone deserves a smile… The Amanda Riley Foundation

Everyone deserves a smile...
The Amanda Riley Foundation

By Beth Volpert Johansen

Childhood cancer is among the most gut wrenching words that could ever be uttered. Loss isn’t simply something that takes place and then passes, it is a living, breathing part of those left on earth.

For Amanda Riley, living the 405 days she was given on earth between diagnosis, through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, until the day she left,  meant smiling through it all. She once told her mother, Barbara Riley, “Everyone deserves a smile…you never know what kind of day someone is having and a smile, just might make it better.”  

With those wise words from a young woman who faced cancer with dignity and strength, what else could her family do besides go on making people, especially children with cancer, smile? Nothing, there was nothing left to do but establish a foundation in their daughter’s name. Barbara and her husband, Steve, established The Amanda Riley Foundation to provide for the needs of patients and their families during cancer treatment. “I remembered families coming to the hospital with nothing,” says Barbara. “They would be in shock and not think to bring anything to help pass the time-not even a notebook to write down all the things they were being told.” According to Barbara, having something to help fill the many hours spent at the hospital during treatment is crucial. The idea to fill that need was born and Barbara had a purpose to the long quiet days that had become her life.

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Left: Amanda’s mother, Barbara Riley and a dear friend, Raven. Right: Annual Day of Smiles ready to thrill the children who spend too many hours in the cancer center.

The Foundation began with small fundraisers and a 5K race. They are celebrating their 5th year with Gala-4- Gold to be held on Saturday, July 25th at Lawrenceville’s 550 Trackside. “The venue is a spectacular combination of rustic and industrial that is just beautiful,” says Barbara. “We are happy to have Emmy award-winning speaker, Aurea McGarry as the master of ceremonies.” Aurea’s book, I Won’t Survive…I’ll Thrive, is based on overcoming odds and the author is a sought-after speaker. The Semi-formal event will feature a silent and live auction as well as inspiring words from cancer warriors and angel heroes who will share their experiences. 

The Gala is just one of many fundraisers and events that take place throughout the year. The foundation’s 5th annual Miles-4-Smiles 5K was held on Saturday, June 5th at Tribble Mill Park. Surrounded by the tranquility of an early morning run around the lake and through the woods, many of Amanda’s friends have remained true to her legacy by continuing to participate in the 5K and other fundraisers along with remembering her in ways that would make her smile. “Two of her friends who went on to UGA chose to decorate their graduation caps this year with Amanda’s basketball number,” says Barbara. “It touches my heart that they would do that.” 

In addition to providing activities and necessary items for patients and their families during hospital stays, the foundation assists in helping families with unexpected finances. “Often, one or both parents have to leave a job in order to care for a child with cancer,” says Barbara. “We consult with the hospital social workers to assess needs.” The foundation also goes to the hospital each week to serve meals to the families staying there. “It is a big part of what we do.” says Barbara.

Beyond needs, Barbara has the ability to grant wishes as well. From something as small as an iTunes card to meals, toys and blankets, Barbara has created a well-oiled system that fulfills hearts at the hospital. “We provide each child a blanket,” says Barbara. “Everyone needs something of comfort that is their size; I remember how important and comforting Amanda’s blanket was to her.” 

Each April, in memory of the day that the Riley family lost Amanda, the foundation hosts a Day of Smiles at Scottish Rite. “We fill a parent’s lounge with toys and the kids can come pick anything they want,” says Barbara. “We strive to take their minds off the cancer-at least for a little while.” The Day of Smiles honors both Amanda’s philosophy about smiles and is a joyful celebration for kids who might not have much to smile about. 

All the work that The Amanda Riley Foundation does is about helping the patient and family find a way to survive what is one of the most trying times of anyone’s life. Providing the “little things” has proven to be far more important than Barbara could have ever imagined. “It doesn’t take millions of dollars to make a sick child happy,” says Barbara. “But, in that moment, being happy is everything to them.” 

To donate or learn more about The Amanda Riley Foundation: They are currently welcoming all community donations and participation for the Gala-4-Gold.