Smithfield Herald

Foundation looking to expand

The foundation's main office in Princeton includes a thrift store called the Second Hope Shop, which helps fund some of its activities.
The foundation's main office in Princeton includes a thrift store called the Second Hope Shop, which helps fund some of its activities.

Since its founding in 2004, the Me Fine Foundation has provided aid to Triangle families with terminally ill children. With the help of more sponsors, the foundation hopes to extend its reach to more hospitals.

“I want it to be a household name, like the Make-a-Wish Foundation,” said staff member Elizabeth Diaz. “I want it to be big.”

Executive director Joey Powell is an important part of the expansion plan. Hired in February, Powell is celebrating six months at the helm.

And he’s closing in on a few milestones, including an agreement with WakeMed, two grants and national recognition at an upcoming NASCAR race.

Me Fine, based in Princeton, currently helps families with terminally ill children in Duke and UNC hospitals. The foundation provides emotional and financial support to the families by often helping with medical expenses, utility bills, car payment and even hospital parking fees, which can reach $10 a day.

“It’s very eye-opening to see what medical costs can do to a family,” Powell said. “We’re talking about, in some cases, $16,000 a week in medical bills.”

The foundation is currently running a toy drive called Christmas in July. Last year, Me Fine collected about 1,500 toys to distribute in the hospitals it serves. Powell wants 2,000 this year.

Diaz said the foundation also provides a lot of moral support to families. She gives all of the parents her cellphone number and answers at all times of the day.

“Sometimes they call just because they want to talk,” Diaz said. “I’m here, and they know that when they call, I’ll answer.”

The foundation’s board approached Powell in December.

At the time, he worked in sales; his contacts in the corporate world have proved beneficial in fundraising.

“I’ve received more contacts – people wanting to help – now that Joey is here,” Diaz said. “More companies want to get involved.”

The foundation will need more funding to expand its reach. Powell said he expects to begin helping families with kids at WakeMed, increasing the foundation’s client list by 50 percent. He’s hoping to expand outside the Triangle in the next five years.

To make that happen, Powell has been reaching out to funding sources large and small, from church groups to corporations. Like sales, he said, fundraising is mostly about building relationships and reaching out to as many people as possible.

“It’s taught me that it’s mostly a numbers game,” Powell said. “The more people you ask, the better your chances for success.”

Sometimes his strategy pays off in a big way. Powell spent a recent Tuesday in Charlotte talking to the foundations created by NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Johnson’s foundation agreed to give Me Fine $10,000, and Me Fine’s logo will be on the side of Johnson’s helmet at the Pure Michigan 400 in August, Powell said.

He’s hoping that exposure will lead to more sponsors.

“It’s going to give people a reason to talk about us,” Powell said. “That’ll help as much as the $10,000.”

Powell said his personal and professional worlds collided this year when his son was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that can cause nerve damage and lead to problems with walking, bladder control and coordination.

“Our experience has given me an idea of what a lot of the families we serve go through,” he said.

“I have complete respect for what these parents do.”

The Me Fine Foundation was founded by friends and family of Folden Lee IV, a Johnston County child who died of leukemia at age 2.