Circle of Hope

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Circle of Hope

One woman’s tragedy gave rise to a charitable platform that’s raised more than $3.5 million.

Meagan Bebenek was four years old when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Six months later she passed away, just two weeks after her fifth birthday. It’s impossible to conceive how such a diagnosis might affect a child so young, yet in that short span between diagnosis and death, Meagan resolved to use her limited time to give back. “She spent hours in her room wrapping up her favourite toys to give away as gifts,” says Meagan’s mom, Denise. “Before she died she kept saying, ‘Mom, I want to make sure everybody who helped me has a gift.’”

“It warms my heart to see the power of selflessness coming together as a compassionate community of hope.”

Brain tumours are the leading cause of death by cancer in children and young people under the age of 20, a fact Denise was not aware of when Meagan was diagnosed in 2000. After her daughter’s death, she wanted to tell the world about this devastating illness. “Something needed to be done to raise awareness, funds and even go beyond that to help the families who were suffering,” says the Toronto-based former teacher.

In 2002, driven by her daughter’s spirit of giving, Denise came up with the idea of holding a five-kilometre walk that would support research projects and programs at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, which houses the only lab in Canada dedicated to pediatric brain tumour research. However, this isn’t like the many other walks for research. The trek, which ends at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, ends with a colossal human “hug” that includes the Bebenek family joining hands with thousands of volunteers, school groups and sponsors around the hospital as a show of solidarity and support for those inside.

The first Meagan’s Walk – it’s held on Mother’s Day every year – attracted about 800 people, mainly family and friends. In 2014, around 4,000 participants from every corner of the country joined and raised more than $500,000, bringing the total amount raised to date to $3.5-million. While the main event occurs annually, the project has branched out into what Denise calls a 365-day message of hope, including a yearly gala and numerous school and community events.

Denise is still amazed at how far the walk has come, and while it doesn’t lessen the pain of losing a child, the support has helped her. “It doesn’t bring Meagan back,” she says, “but it warms my heart to see the power of selflessness coming together as a compassionate community of hope.”

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