Stephanie and Jim Yott are helping other families in need through the loss of their daughter
Westfield’s Jim and Stephanie Yott have lived through the process of having – and ultimately losing – a seriously ill child. They understand the impact of caring for a sick loved one and are helping to make the journey easier on other families.
“When Emily was sick and in the hospital for six months, lots of people came out of the woodwork,” Stephanie said. “People would send us money or serve us food.”
“They were small but all of them together made such a big impact. You have an obligation. You do feel like you have to help others. A ‘thank you’ seemed inefficient,” Jim said. “We want to pay it forward.”
Emily Yott was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after her first birthday in 2006. After 14 months of intense treatment, including a stem cell transplant at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Despite all efforts, Emily passed away on May 1, 2007 at age 2.
“Once you get the news it’s one-way through the door. Everything is different now,” Jim said. “We literally went to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital clinic and were told, ‘We’re admitting you’ and were there for six weeks.”
She was the first of three pediatric cancer patients of Clarian North Hospital. All had different types of leukemia. The Yotts said Emily had three different rounds of chemo, but nothing worked. Emily was in remission September 2006 but the illness returned November 2006.
“She got to be better for awhile but it ultimately failed,” Stephanie said.
For half of Emily’s short life, she grew up in various hospital rooms.
“She walked, talked and got all of her teeth in the hospital,” Stephanie said. “Looking back at the experience, in all the photos we were smiling. We were living our life because people were so good to us. The doctors and nurses (that cared for Emily) are still friends.”
Jim said Emily was a chubby baby who loved dogs and Barney and enjoyed the occasional McDonald’s cheeseburger.
“There was something especially charming about her – her blond, blond hair and twinkling eyes,” he said. “To get from here to there she rolled. She was a gift, even for a short time.”
Starting the foundation
With an initial grant from the Tony Stewart Foundation, the Yotts created an endowment in Emily’s name with the Legacy Fund at Central Indiana Community Foundation. Stephanie said the endowment allows them to assist other nonprofits. To support families in need, the Yotts created a charitable foundation in Emily’s memory in 2007.
“We realize the amount of money isn’t going to cure cancer,” Jim said. “But at the grassroots level we can help people pay rent, utilities, mortgages or keep the electricity turned on.”
Last year, the foundation purchased Christmas presents for six families and also provided gas cards for those traveling to treatments and parking passes at hospitals.
“You lose your sense of normalcy; everything’s turned upside down. We want to make it so they can not worry about paying bills. They need to focus on their little son or daughter that’s sick,” Stephanie said.
“We also provide parent care packages with toiletries. When Emily was admitted she started chemo later that day. Sometimes you have nothing but the clothes on your back. It may seem trivial but it’s huge,” Jim said.
Jim said all of the foundation’s board members are volunteers and the organization has no overhead or compensation so all funds go to sick children and families.
The foundation also supports organizations that help families in similar situations, including Indiana Canine Assistant Network, Riley Hospital for Children, A Special Wish Foundation and Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital.
“We have remained somewhat small intentionally. However, in the past couple of years we have really grown and seem to have quite a bit of momentum,” Stephanie said.
The Yotts work personally with Riley Hospital and have granted several college scholarships for cancer survivors. Riley recently asked them to exclusively support their “Sibling Hero” award. “They actually asked us to name it. The ‘Sibling Hero’ program grants wishes to the siblings that donate their bone marrow to a sick brother or sister,” Stephanie said, adding the award recognizes those siblings that get lost in the shuffle. “The kids are so sweet and are just being drug along. They’re sometimes confused and they just want to be a kid.”
To date, the foundation has provided three $500 wishes to “Sibling Heroes” including an iPad Air, laptop computer and a shopping spree.
In 2013, Stephanie said they provided $15,000 in assistance.
“We hope to double that in 2014, she said. “We really are passionate about helping these families in crisis.”
The foundation is in its seventh year and continues to evolve.
“We have definitely dialed it in,” Stephanie said. “This is the first year requests and needs have outpaced funds. We’re trying to step up our fundraising.”
Stephanie said the annual Lemonade Stand and Carnival Fundraiser is May 17 and assists with raising $10,000 to $15,000 for the foundation.
“Kids have a great time. They have free run of the place for a few hours,” Stephanie said. “Not a day goes by we don’t think about her. She’d be 9. Each year we celebrate Emily and help people in the process. We still keep her memory and spirit alive.”
The Yotts are planning to expand the foundation’s fundraising with a partnership with the City of Westfield. In the fall of 2015, the two would like to host a Beer Fest/Taste of Westfield event in Asa Bales Park. The event would become an annual fundraiser and move to Grand Junction Park and Plaza once completed.
“Kids in our community are getting sick and word is getting out,” Stephanie said. “As long as there are we are going to try to help them.”
The Emily Yott Foundation will host its sixth annual Lemonade Stand and Carnival Fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 17 at The Village Farms Clubhouse, 453 E. Greyhound Pass.
There will be carnival games, a rock wall, bounce houses, Indy Game Truck – The Ultimate Video Game Theater, face painter and balloon artists for children. For adults there will be an Indiana Blood Bank blood drive, vendor fair and silent auction. Hot dogs, popcorn, lemonade and Chik-fil-A will also be available. Cost is $15 for kids and provides access to all entertainment. Adults are not charged.
The foundation uses100 percent of the proceeds to financially assist families facing childhood cancer, grant wishes, award college scholarships to survivors, and support programs sponsored by Riley Hospital for Children. For more information, call 281-0970 or visit www.emilyyottfoundation.com.
Stephanie and Jim Yott deal with many families that are caring for sick children. They provided the following advice they share with other parents:
● Live in the moment – “Live in the moment because you don’t know what time will bring. Try to focus on that child. Be an advocate for your child, especially if they can’t speak for themselves,” Stephanie said.
● People react differently – “Men go to the worst case scenario and think about finances. Moms often go in a different direction (more protective),” Jim said.
● Let others help you – “It’s really hard to let others help you but you have to. These people want to help you; you need to let them help you. You’ll never be able to pay them back but you can pay it forward. The experience is so humbling,” Jim said.
● Don’t blame yourself – “Don’t spend time and make thoughts that ‘I did something.’ Our doctor said you weren’t the reason,” Stephanie said.
“Emily’s illness was one in 2 million. It just is what it is,” Jim said.