Heidi Villanueva, Abigail & Briana Schechter, Faith Villanueva, Bradyn & Melissa McFarland-Maxwell, Stephan Maxwell (L-R).

Second Star to the Right

When tragedy strikes, there are countless ways to cope. But it takes a very special sort of person to turn that pain into something that helps people going through the same situation they are.

Kayla Blair-Photo courtesy of Second Star to the Right
Kayla Blair-Photo courtesy of Second Star to the Right

When Rachelle Griffith found out that her daughter, Kayla Blair, had cancer at the young age of 21 months, she and her sister, Briana Schechter, knew their worlds would never be the same. Just six short months after being diagnosed and being treated at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, little Kayla lost her battle. But her struggle was not in vain, and the impression she left is still providing great comfort to local families caught in the crossfires of childhood cancer.

A year after Kayla’s passing, Schechter and Griffith decided to provide something that they just couldn’t find here before: direct support for those struggling families affected by the many guises of childhood cancer. They formed a nonprofit, Second Star to the Right, with the purpose to help uplift and contribute some necessities to these families. As Schechter said, “We all felt alone and didn’t know there were other people out here going through the same thing, mostly because there aren’t any local [children’s] treatment centers. Lots of families are treated in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Madera, but then live here locally.”

Starlight 5K Fundraiser-Photo by Ande Casteneda, courtesy of Second Star to the Right
Starlight 5K Fundraiser-Photo by Ande Casteneda, courtesy of Second Star to the Right

Since 2010, Second Star to the Right has been providing support by means of gas cards, grants, grocery gift cards, meals delivered, and support groups, amongst other things, to help the affected families and children on this journey. “We spend about one thousand to fifteen-hundred dollars weekly to help meet the needs of these families,” she disclosed.

Their efforts have meant a great deal to families here in Bakersfield. Melissa McFarland remembers well how difficult things were when she was first dealing with her son’s diagnosis. “The process is so hard,” she relayed. “Friends who have been your friends for fifteen years suddenly drop off because it is just too hard, and you are left with no support.” Another mom she met who was going through the same ordeal told her about Second Star to the Right and gave her Schechter’s contact information. “Briana knew exactly how to be the friend I needed at that time. When everything else was crumbling, she made sure I was still walking. She was the shoulder I needed.”

McFarland lived in a hospital for months, and the contributions of gas and grocery cards made all the difference in the world to her. Due to the help she received through the organization, she is now dedicated to helping out other people in our community who are undergoing the same trials.

“When my daughter was first diagnosed in January 2014, we didn’t know what to do,” recalled Heidi Villanueva. “We were on a downward spiral and needed support, and when people haven’t been through it, it is hard to understand.” Through some research, Villanueva and her husband found out about the nonprofit, and emailed their experience to the organization. “Briana sent back this long and beautiful letter in response. From then on, it was like being welcomed into a family. We even have private Facebook groups where we can post and share in case we can’t meet up in person.”

Heidi Villanueva, Abigail & Briana Schechter, Faith Villanueva, Bradyn & Melissa McFarland-Maxwell, Stephan Maxwell (L-R).
Heidi Villanueva, Abigail & Briana Schechter, Faith Villanueva, Bradyn & Melissa McFarland-Maxwell, Stephan Maxwell (L-R).

Much like McFarland, the Villanuevas have been helping Second Star to the Right in any way possible, including helping with their annual Starlight 5k (slated for March 12, 2016; a truly unique race). She voiced how vital volunteers and donors are to their wonderful cause, and drove one simple point home. “Everything that is raised and collected stays here, and helps local families.” And there are more people here in Bakersfield who are fighting this battle than you may think. “I know of six families, alone, who are in my area of town who are going through this right now,” McFarland stated.

Any gesture is helpful, even if it is a one-time donation of a gift card. Whether you are part of a family in need of support or want to assist in the nonprofit’s mission, there are many ways to get involved. You can find out more information by visiting their website at www.secondstartotheright.org.

Photo by Ande Casteneda, courtesy of Second Star to the Right

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