May 21, 2019
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This nonprofit helps parents pay the bills when their child is in the hospital

An Atlanta teacher and her husband launched a nonprofit after seeing her student’s family worry about bills while they were caring for their son.

Rebecca and Kevin Polli founded A Community Effort after seeing how people come together during hard times. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

I became an elementary school teacher because I love working with kids. I’ve had many great kids and wonderful classes over the years, but any educator will tell you there’s always a student or two who you connect with just a little more than the others. That’s not to take away anything from all of the awesome students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.

Mason was one of those students. From the moment he entered my third grade classroom, he had a smile that lit up the room and was loved by fellow students and teachers alike. “Mase the Ace” is what everyone called him. That’s why Mason’s cancer diagnosis during his third grade year and eventual passing was so emotionally devastating.

Throughout Mason’s almost two-year fight with cancer, I continued to teach him at the hospital and in his home. I became close with his entire family and witnessed, among other things, the financial strain they were experiencing. Everyday things like utility bills and mortgage payments were piling up as Mason’s parents took time off from work to be with him at the hospital. The community around them rallied and fundraised to help them pay household bills. It truly took a community effort to help them make ends meet.

Mason was in the third grade when he was diagnosed with cancer.

A Community Effort honors the memory of the author’s student, Mason.

I began to wonder about families with a child fighting cancer that don’t have the same type of support. What about single-parent families where the choice is to either work or comfort their sick child? What do those families do to make ends meet during an already difficult time?

Based on my experiences with Mason and his family, I decided to form my own nonprofit to help those families. We decided to call it A Community Effort. Folks call it ACE for short, which is no coincidence–I’m doing this to honor my former student Mase the Ace, after all.

I formed ACE in mid-2012 and after about a year of fundraising and meeting with social workers to discuss our mission, we finally helped our first family in 2014. The nonprofit has helped 240 families since that time with a total of more than $110,000 of financial assistance. I run ACE with the help of my husband and a few friends. We really are a small charity with a big heart. My husband and I pay all administrative expenses for running the charity out of our own pocket, so 100 percent of donations go directly to the families in need.

We work with the social workers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to identify the families in need. Then we take the bills and pay them directly so the families don’t have to worry about it. We’ll try to do anything we can do to help ease their burden, even if it’s as minor as mailing the check ourselves.

Forming and running ACE has been a fulfilling experience. Now being a mother of two little girls myself, I cannot begin to fathom what these parents are going through. I’m thankful that ACE has connected with lots of people and we’ve been able to help so many families of pediatric cancer.

In a perfect world, we’ll find a cure for cancer and organizations like ACE would simply go away. I’d be fine with that. Until that time comes, we’ll be here helping the families around Atlanta during their most trying times.

For more information about ACE, check out their homepage, and find out how to donate.

Rebecca Polli

Rebecca Polli

A Community Effort

Rebecca Polli is the founder and executive director of A Community Effort. Rebecca was born, raised, and continues to reside in Atlanta. She received her undergraduate degree in elementary education from Indiana University and her Masters in elementary education from Nova Southeastern University. She was involved in numerous charitable causes throughout her life prior to forming ACE. In addition to her charitable work, she is also the mother of two beautiful daughters.