The Birth of a Charity

A Charity is Born

It’s always a good idea to stick to your word when you make a promise to God.

Perhaps you’ve been in a similar situation — finding yourself plea bargaining to a higher power.  Promising to do something, anything, in exchange for the request you are begging to be filled.  Maybe prayers for yourself.  Or desperate wishes for someone you love.  In this case, one college sophomore was pleading to God for his life.  In return, he vowed to make a difference.  Both parties held up their end of the deal.  And so it was that in 1988, Craig Pollard survived Hodgkin’s disease for the second time.  He was granted the opportunity to jump back into his life — an honor, he realized, not every cancer patient receives.  While finishing at the University of Southern California, Craig remembered his promise.  And after graduation, his vow to make a difference was realized through Cancer for College, the charity he launched in 1993 with the mission of providing hope and inspiration to cancer survivors through college scholarships.

It started small.  Just a little 24-person golf tournament, all participants family and friends, which raised $500 and was immediately awarded to our first recipient in a single $500 scholarship.  It was such a proud and positive milestone for everyone involved, and momentum for the cause grew instantly.  This year, Cancer for College marks its 20th anniversary, and in 2013 alone will award nearly $130,000 to 60 scholarship recipients.  To date, we have awarded close to $2 million in scholarships to 1,000 college students.


Past recipients celebrate in Coronado, Ca. 2012

Growth Years: The Short Version

So much happens in the course of 20 years.  The golf tournament grew in size and scope every single year, and the dollars raised increased accordingly.  We felt amazed, grateful.  More fundraising dollars meant larger scholarships and  more recipients — fantastic! $500 scholarships became $1,000 and $2,500 scholarships.  In time, we added perpetual scholarships, in which select recipients received their scholarship once a year for four years.

In these exciting growth years for Cancer for College, something incredible was happening to a good college friend of ours.  In short, our friend Will from school morphed into Will Ferrell.  Wow are we proud of him!  And thankful, too, as he and his wife, Viveca Paulin, have supported our charity since just about the beginning.  Their loyal commitment of  time and talent really put Cancer for College on the map, providing national and even international exposure to our cause, attracting corporate sponsors, and essentially filling our fundraising events to capacity year after year.  Next week, on September 7, Will’s brainchild The Comedy Explosion will perform at the San Diego Civic Theater to a sold out crowd, with all proceeds benefiting Cancer for College.  For all of us here at the charity, we recognize just how far we’ve come, and we are grateful to all those who have faithfully supported along the way.


CFC Founder Craig Pollard and Will Ferrell 

In 2006, Craig faced a new challenge.  What he thought was an ordinary cold quickly turned into a life-threatening bloodstream infection — battling cancer twice had left him with a compromised immune system.  He ultimately survived, but in another of life’s great compromises, the medication which saved his life essentially strangled his extremities.  Amputation of both feet was required (click here for more details on Craig’s story).  True to form, he turned something potentially devastating into a positive.   In the fall of that year, only six months after losing his feet, Craig golfed in his prosthetics and the foundation proudly gave its first scholarship to an amputee.

A Blog is Born

Creating a blog as part of our 20-year anniversary celebration seemed ideal, an outlet to spread positive energy and inspiration to those touched by cancer.  We titled it Celebrating Survivors, because that’s exactly what our applicants do, celebrate their survival.  We’ve found an incredible common thread among these young adults– gratitude — but not in the way you might think.  Most of them express how grateful they are, of course for surviving, but also for the experience itself.  Time and again, applicants say they would not change their cancer experience, because surviving it changed their lives completely, and for the better.

“With all the dreadful treatments that I went through, even today, I look back and continue to see this as a positive experience,” says Drake Baker, 2013 perpetual scholarship winner.  “Without it, I would never have learned and seen the things that have shaped a whole new perspective on life for me.  When everything seemed as if it was against me, I was still confident in my ability to overcome a huge obstacle in my life.”

Many applicants are compelled to switch their field of study mid-stream to join the cancer community on the other side, be it as a doctor, a nurse, or a social worker.  Some want to launch their own non-profit.  All want to pay it forward.  One of our scholarship winners from the early years is now a pediatric oncology nurse in the hospital in which she was treated as a toddler! What a blessing and comfort she must be to cancer kids and their families, who can look into their nurse’s healthy, radiant face and know she survived the trials they now face.

A Heartfelt Thank You

Whether you are new to Cancer for College or have followed us since the beginning, a heartfelt thank you from us all.  We feel blessed and grateful to do the work we do, and it can only be done with your continued support.  We hope you will follow our charity, both through our blog and through our website.  We hope you feel inspired and uplifted by what we share through Celebrating Survivors.  And for you and yours, we wish upon you days filled with health, happiness and gratitude, and that every single day our world is one day closer to eliminating cancer.  True cause for celebration.