Help Sami Kick Cancer

Jim and Karen Curtis founded the Help Sami Kick Cancer Foundation to help families facing pediatric cancer in memory of their daughter Samantha “Sami” Curtis, who passed in May 2017 after a two-year battle with the disease.

Samantha "Sami" Curtis

Help Sami Kick Cancer was officially established in October 2018 and has since partnered with other local nonprofits to provide financial assistance to families in need. Now, the foundation is embarking on a new journey to bring to life The Lodge at Dreaming Tree Ranch, a retreat where families can escape the stress of a pediatric cancer diagnosis through relaxation and outdoor adventures.

 

“When we would go to Burlington and Sami would have treatment if we happened to be staying there for a length of time there were things we could do, like she was able to go to an assisted horseback riding facility,” said Karen.

Fortunately she had her horses and the sugar bush and other things she loved once we got back to this side of Lake Champlain, but some families get back over here and it’s, what do we do now to break up thinking about cancer nonstop? So that’s what we’re hoping The Lodge will do.”

The Lodge at Dreaming Tree Ranch

The foundation purchased a two-story home in Potsdam last year that will become The Lodge, and secured 200+ acres of surrounding woodland that adjoins property the Curtis family already owns. In total, they have around 2,000 acres to take families hiking, hunting and fishing, side-by-side ATV riding, skiing, snowshoeing, and more. The property also includes a horse barn and sugar bush that Sami built in the months before she passed. The idea captures Sami’s spirit, love of the outdoors, and love for family.

 “To bring all of those things together, it just embodies Sami,” said Karen.

 

 Sami was an active  member of the community who raised thousands of dollars for the St. Lawrence County Cancer Fund, of which she was a board member since age 13. Before her death, the organization transferred money Sami had raised since being diagnosed in 2015 to the Northern New York Community Foundation to create a legacy fund.

Sami decided she wanted to be remembered through annual donations to the Canton FFA for jacket awards, Honey Dew Acres for young riders affected by cancer, Camp Ta Kum Ta, a pediatric cancer camp in Vermont, and St. Mary’s Catholic School. 

“We were able to talk with her about what she wanted and her main thing was she didn’t want to give money to a hospital that would buy an instrument they were going to charge people to use,” said Karen. “She wanted to help individuals and for it to be meaningful and personal.”

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The family decided to start Help Sami Kick Cancer after one of Sami's doctors contacted Jim and Karen to ask if they could help families through her legacy fund. But they were unable since Northern New York Community Foundation is set up to give from organization to organizations, not directly to individuals.

 

“We decided to form another foundation to raise money to help families make ends meet and ensure all their needs are met because that can be such a burden,” said Karen.

The idea for The Lodge began to take shape after the Curtis family helped One Wish Foundation fulfill a 12-year-old boy’s dream to go turkey hunting last spring.

 

“One Wish Foundation wanted to take this little boy turkey hunting on our property because we had lots of really big toms and they were just blown away by our story,” said Karen. “We had lost a daughter and Mason [the boy] was going to attempt to shoot this turkey on the one year anniversary of Sami’s passing. We had him and his family over for dinner and had a big cake. It was awesome to spend the weekend with this family who really moved us.”

 

The experience, coupled with the memory of a family hunting trip to Colorado before Sami passed, made Jim and Karen realize they could help other families in the same way.

The Curtis family

“Usually at the end of a week’s vacation you’re getting on each other’s nerves and are ready to go home, but 10 days later we didn’t want the trip to end,” said Karen. “It meant so much to us and we want to give that to families. That bonding time is really important to bring families together. There’s so much stress with a disease like this and to have all your needs met in a week and be able to focus on each other and bond and strengthen those bonds is really crucial. For us that was key.”

The idea for The Lodge took off from there.

"Sami put her hand down in everything and next thing you know, we had a foundation board meeting and told the members that we don’t want to just be another entity,” Karen said. “Then The Lodge property became available a few days later and everything conspired from there.”

 
The foundation purchased The Lodge in February and are accepting donations to help with renovations so they can begin hosting families. Immediate needs include adding an elevator and ensuring the bathrooms are handicapped accessible, repairing the deck, repairing the exterior, fixing and painting interior walls, and adding appliances, furniture and furnishings.

 

She [Sami] wanted to help individuals and for it to be meaningful and personal.

“It’s been magical so far. The community members and people who stop by Jim’s office are so heartwarming. Everybody is saying it’s so nice to have this in our county and it’s something good to come out of all the bad things that are happening,” said Karen. “Right now the sky’s the limit in terms of helping families make incredible memories ... and that we can bring them joy is pretty cool.”

 

To learn more about Help Sami Kick Cancer and The Lodge, and to find out how to donate to help with renovation efforts, visit their website at helpsamikickcancer.org. You can also email the foundation at helpsamikickcancerfoundation@gmail.com and find them on Facebook here