Burial plots help families coping with childhood illness

by Len Lear
Posted 6/6/24

Nonprofits are always looking for ways to raise funds, but the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund may have a new twist.

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Burial plots help families coping with childhood illness


Nonprofit organizations are always looking for ways to raise funds to support their missions, but the 48-year-old Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund (KADMF) in Fort Washington has come up with a fundraising program that just may be unique.

In the mid-1990s, a donor gave 38 burial plots at George Washington Memorial Park in Plymouth Meeting to the fund, which has helped 35,000 families with critically ill and disabled children since its founding. The fund owns the plots and holds the deeds.

"The donor felt that we could give the plots to the families we serve when one of their children passed from their disease," said Danielle Scott-Griffith, executive director of the fund. "But we have done that only four times in the 27 years since. That's because the families we serve are almost always choosing cremation when we are assisting with funeral arrangements and are not opting for burials, so our board has approved our selling the deeds to the plots."

So now, the fund has found another way to realize the value of the gift. It’s selling the 36 plots, each valued at $5,700, to raise programming funds. 

"We want to honor the original donor's intentions – we haven't given one away in 10 years, because even if a family would be given a plot, they are choosing cremation instead,” said Teresa Araco Rodgers, president of the Dolan Fund board of directors. Also, 80% of our families are from Philadelphia, and they want the burial plot close to their homes. The cemetery in Plymouth Meeting is too far away for them."

The story of the fund begins in March 1972, when Kelly Anne Dolan received a diagnosis of aplastic anemia at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia – two months after her second birthday. The diagnosis introduced the Dolan family to a world of trauma, emergency trips, hospitalizations, great expenses, physical and emotional exhaustion and sadness.

During the five years of Kelly Anne's illness, her parents, Joe and Peggy Dolan, learned of the many hardships that other hospital families were also experiencing. Parents were losing their jobs, homes, cars and essential services like utilities and phones because the significant time and expense of caring for a seriously ill child took time away from their jobs and decreased their incomes.

Parents had to decide whether to pay the rent or a doctor's copay, whether to pay a phone bill or parking fees at the hospital, whether to stay with an ill, hospitalized child or go to work. The Dolans realized these problems were magnified for single-parent families and grandparent guardians.

Kelly Anne's condition evolved into a rare form of leukemia in the summer of 1976. She died from the effects of her illness on Oct. 5, 1976, less than three months before her seventh birthday on New Year's Eve.

To help deal with their profound grief, Joe and Peggy Dolan founded the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund 48 years ago. The fund's mission stemmed from the Dolans' realization that there were few resources to help families in such nightmarish situations.

With its current staff of four, the fund provides financial assistance and direct support for needs not covered by insurance and other respite programs for local families of children receiving care.

Dolan Fund programs are currently helping over 500 families. At first, the fund just provided financial support for non-medical expenses, but it has evolved since then. 

For example, they recently took 300 people on a cruise on the Spirit of Philadelphia boat on the Delaware River. They also have "Family Fun Days," a support group for caregivers, a holiday Adopt-a-Kid program, Thanksgiving dinners, travel expenses and hotel costs for families who have to stay overnight close to the hospital treating their children.

The Dolan Fund has long ties to Chestnut Hill. Peggy Dolan is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College, and several board and staff members are Hill residents. Their current board president and director of development are both Hill residents. They have hosted events at Morris Arboretum, the Cricket Club and other Chestnut Hill venues. In the past three months, they have given financial aid to more than 20 Northwest Philadelphia families with critically ill and disabled children.

A typical local beneficiary said this about the fund: "I would like to thank you for all the help you have given my family with the propane bill that your organization helped us pay ... As a single mother with multiple sclerosis of a child with cerebral palsy, it is nice to know that there are organizations and people who truly care about others!"

The Dolan Fund will be using social media and other methods to sell the burial plots. For more information, call 215-643-0763 or email info@dolanfund.org.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.