Jacob Ralston was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2012 when he was only eight years old. Since then, the now teenage ostomate has struggled with a refractory (medically unmanageable) form of the disease and its satellite effects, causing him to spend a significant amount time both in the hospital and as an outpatient.
During his many stays at The Hospital for Sick Children (also known as SickKids, a place that Kaitlyn O’Brien calls her second home), Jacob noticed that the day treatment rooms for patients were drab, uninspiring, and uncomfortable — not at all the uplifting environments their young occupants needed. Seeing that a change needed to be made, he took matters into his own hands by starting “Jacob’s Healing Rooms,” a fundraising project that aims to improve the outpatient experience.
“Our goal is to raise funds to revitalize the space and make it more appealing for the patients who spend their time there,” Jacob explains. This is accomplished through contributions such as tablets, games, new TVs, and even a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Only a few years after starting the project, Jacob has raised over $37,000, surpassing the halfway point of his $60,000 goal.
It was his 13th birthday party, “Jacob’s Birthday Bonanza,” that stands out as one of his favorite fundraisers so far. Having recently changed schools at the time, Jacob’s illness led to irregular attendance of his classes; to make matters worse, he was also subjected to bullying from some of his peers (an experience that led to his involvement in the ByStander Revolution anti-bullying campaign). Nevertheless, he decided to make his birthday celebration open to “anyone who wanted to come and celebrate with him and have a fun day.” Jacob and his mother, Melissa, began advertising the event on social media, and the community was quick to respond. A number of local businesses came forward to donate prizes for draws. Entertainment was brought in for the attendees, including a clown, a magician, and a variety of games. The event was ultimately a resounding success: over $3,600 was donated to Jacob’s Healing Rooms project.
Despite years of experience raising money through events such as Jacob’s Birthday Bonanza, the mother-son duo can attest that fundraising is often a struggle — even when there is no shortage of passion for the cause.
“Be prepared to be exhausted and frustrated at times, as it is a lot of work,” they caution. “And a lot of places have their own ‘rules’ as to what can and can’t be done.”
Jacob and Melissa offer a few pieces of advice for those looking to organize their own fundraisers:
- Pick a cause that is close to your heart; this will make the tougher moments easier to bear.
- Consider which type of event you want to do and how it might relate to your other passions. “Maybe you’re a foodie—pair with a local restaurant to create a special dish, with proceeds going back to your cause.”
- Look for at least one or two “big ticket” items that will attract people to the event. (Jacob raffled off a preloaded Nintendo System at his most recent Butter Tart Festival booth.)
- Don’t be afraid to approach local businesses and ask for their support. You may be surprised at how many are willing to get involved.
- Once you’ve sorted out the details of your fundraiser, don’t hesitate to spread the word by advertising the event months in advance.
The most important tip of all? “Don’t give up. Even if you only manage to break even after your fundraiser, it’s the attention that you’ve drawn to the cause that is most important.” Judging by the attention that Jacob has garnered for his Healing Rooms, this advice is well worth heeding.
If you’re interested in making a donation or learning more about Jacob’s Healing Rooms, you can do so here.