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When faced with adversity or loss in life, oftentimes individuals are paralyzed with grief and find difficulty moving forward. For longtime community volunteer and Dayton Foundation donor Leigh Ann Fulford, however, the opposite is true. Some of her darkest hours have inspired her to create efforts that are helping others navigate life-changing events like the ones she has experienced.
One of these efforts is CARE Walk, a breast cancer fundraising event held in Oakwood each May, which she started when she lost two aunts to breast cancer following the birth of her first child.
CARE Walk has raised more than $300,000 for breast cancer awareness and support programs since 2002.
“When I became a mother and responsible for the care of three little beings, I worried about things that might prevent me from seeing my children grow up. I participated in a three-day, 60-mile walk where I learned a lot about breast health and taking care of myself. I also found out about the lack of funding for research and education for breast cancer in the U.S, and how many services and treatments are not covered by insurance,” Leigh Ann said. “Encouraged by the local physical education classes and my walking buddies, I started CARE Walk to empower kids to make a difference in our community.”
Leigh Ann and Joe Fulford
CARE Walk has raised more than $300,000 since 2002 and has made its mission to keep that money local. The leadership team set up charitable funds in 2012 through The Dayton Foundation to make accepting donations and distributing grants easier.
“The Dayton Foundation is Dayton’s best kept secret! Not only does it support so many wonderful nonprofits here in our community, it also offers a way for folks to easily manage their charitable giving,” Leigh Ann said. “The Foundation creates positive change in our community. I have found the staff to be wonderful resources for meaningful giving.”
Because of team members who have retired or moved, the recent 2022 event was the final 5K organized by Leigh Ann and the leadership team. “We are hopeful someone will take it over. Fortunately, Dayton now has several organizations that help women in the area in regards to breast cancer, such as Breast Wishes and Living with Lymphedema,” she said. “I will continue to support them and encourage others to do the same.”
The Foundation creates positive change in our community. I have found the staff to be wonderful resources for meaningful giving.
–Leigh Ann Fulford, Dayton Foundation donor
Leigh Ann actively is involved in the community, volunteering her talents for projects and nonprofit organizations, such as David’s Place at Daybreak, Montgomery County Ohio College Promise and the Oakwood Inclusion Coalition. But the one most near and dear to her heart came to fruition as a result of losing her sister, Lynda, to suicide in 2005. Her passion to ensure that no one goes through the pain that her family and friends experienced inspired her to create GEM Project Dayton, which stands for Goal: Everyone Matters. The group’s mission is to encourage peer-to-peer support in suicide prevention. Leigh Ann established a Charitable Checking AccountSM through The Dayton Foundation in 2015 to support its activities.
Leigh Ann Fulford (back right) poses with the GEM Project Dayton leadership team.
“The pandemic has taken a toll on people and shed light on mental health problems that have gone largely unaddressed for too many years. Young adults are working harder than ever, but they’re barely making ends meet or taking on incredible debt just to get by. You can see why many have lost hope,” Leigh Ann said. “Many of our children are overwhelmed, depressed and anxious. Unfortunately, they cope in unhealthy ways, because we haven’t taught them how to identify, treat or live with mental health issues that have been caused or exacerbated by the financial, social, etc., pressures put on them. Talking about suicide is the only way we can reduce or eliminate it. Education is key to suicide prevention, and that’s what GEM Project Dayton is about.”
Leigh Ann believes that education is what “makes you more aware of the community you live in,” and credits her parents, who were the first in their families to go to college, for instilling this in her. They also taught her to look for the good in people and to lend a helping hand – philosophies that drive her and her husband, Joe, to volunteer their time and give back through their Dayton Foundation funds.
“Helping others makes me feel like I’m making a difference in the world,” Leigh Ann said. “One of my most favorite children’s books is Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. Yertle can’t be satisfied and keeps wanting more and more at the expense of all the other turtles in the pond. In the end, Yertle’s world literally comes crashing to an end because his never-ending wish list was unsustainable. Happiness comes from within, not from status or things, and my happiness is rooted in helping others.”