By Cherri Gregg

AMBLER, Pa. (CBS) — Peggy Dolan turned tragedy into triumph 36 years ago after she lost her six-year-old daughter, Kelly, to a rare form of leukemia.

READ MORE: 2 Police Officers Shot During Fourth Of July Festivities On Ben Franklin Parkway: Police

Instead of focusing on her own loss, Dolan started the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund, which helps families with seriously ill children.   The organization supports families by paying bills and providing items such as air conditioners and other necessities when they are needed most.

“These families are in a downward spiral financially,” says Dolan.  “They’ll take time off from work without pay to take care of the child at home on sick days, or to be with the child in critical condition at the hospital.  And the out-of-pocket expenses, like parking at the hospital and the additional co-pays, can run into the hundreds of dollars every month, which takes away from their budget.”

Dolan says families many times lose their homes and cars, and have utilities cut off while caring for a sick or disabled child.   She says it’s a stressful time for families, and the fund alleviates some of that pressure.

“We are not disease-specific,” she says, “so we work with families whose children have AIDS, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy.  And some of them have very rare genetic disorders.  This year we’ll probably help about 1,400 families that have been referred to us.”

Dolan says that since it began in 1976, the fund has helped more than 22,000 families.

“We were just scraping to make ends meet,” says Andrew White.  His 19-year-old daughter, Sara, has spina bifida and is dependent on a ventilator.

White says that when Sara was about three year old, the family had an extremely tough time and the fund was there to help.

“Missing so much work at that time, having someone pay just some of the small bills, made a world of difference,” says White.

But the fund also provides opportunities for families to be normal for a day.   Every year it hosts Family Fun Days on the dinner cruise yacht Spirit of Philadelphia and at Longwood Gardens.

(Children and parents enjoy dancing aboard the

(Children and parents enjoy dancing aboard the “Spirit of Philadelphia” cruise ship, at Penn’s Landing. Photo provided)

“My daughter loves the cruises,” says White.  “She is wheelchair bound, so she’ll never be able to walk.  But they have music and they get all the kids involved in the music.  And it’s great for the parents because we get to meet other families in similar situations.”

READ MORE: South Jersey Man Recalls Moments After Shots Fired Injuring 2 Police Officers At Wawa Welcome America Fireworks Show In Philadelphia

White says these events give hope.

“It gives the kids a chance to be like average kids,” he says.

Dolan says the fund gets a lot of help when local schools hold fundraisers, and from organizations such as the Miss Philadelphia Scholarship Organization.

And others offer gifts.

“The Spirit of Philadelphia donates their ship to us for our Family Fun Day,” says Dolan, “and their entire crew volunteers their time — even the captains.”

And Dolan says she’s thankful not just for the help from others, but also that the fund can help others.

“It’s really an incredible gift to us,” she says. “We are honored to be able to have a part in their struggle and to help get them back on their feet.”

For more info about the Kelly Ann Dolan Memorial Fund, go to

Hear the podcast…


MORE NEWS: With Hints Of Yellow In Sea Of Red, White And Blue, Montgomery County Town Honors Ukrainian Refugees

“Volkswagen Caring Community” main page