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Is the cure for childhood cancer in your shoes?

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By Christine Collins

(July 18, 2017 – BALTIMORE, Md.) -- As an executive talent hunter, Steve Braun focuses on what people can do. Lately, he’s spending a lot of his off-time asking people if they can walk.

The president and CEO of Search Consultants is chairing Baltimore’s St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer on September 23. His mission is to get a sea of people moving from Latrobe Park to Fort McHenry in support of the world’s foremost pediatric cancer research hospital.

The mission is inspired by Braun’s wife and her family. Marianne Rowan-Braun lost one sibling to an accident and one to leukemia before she finished college. Those experiences sparked her interest in St. Jude. After a chance encounter with a St. Jude regional director at an event, Steve Braun adopted the cause. He even went to Memphis with his wife to tour St. Jude’s main campus.

“You walk down the halls and you don’t see any wheelchairs,” he described. “They’re all red wagons taking the kids around. Every detail is thought about for making this not a horrific experience, but rather a happier experience for the kids.

“It was so powerful, seeing the facility and the work they do, and the research. It’s beyond description.”

Doctors may refer children to St. Jude when they have run out of non-experimental options, or when local expertise isn’t enough. Patients must be 18 or younger, and must have an illness St. Jude is researching. While much of its research is cancer-centered, St. Jude also works on certain infectious or immune system diseases, blood disorders, and sickle cell disease. And unlike most research institutions, St. Jude shares everything it discovers, doing hundreds of free consultations all over the world every year.

According to Alsac/St. Jude Regional Development Representative Kathleen Davis, the work costs $2.4 million per day. Families, however, never pay a dime. Everything —treatments, travel, lodging, food—is handled. Because deductibles and caps can bankrupt families’ funds, St. Jude is careful about billing insurance even for covered care. That means less than 15 percent of its operating budget comes from insurance reimbursement. Grants cover about 10 percent of the costs. The rest of the funding—something like $1.8 million per day—comes from donations.

That was more than enough to motivate Braun. “We walked out of there and I said, ‘What can we do to be involved?’” 

So he has leveraged his profession for the nonprofit’s benefit, recruiting corporate sponsors and convincing business leaders to field teams of employees for the 5K. Davis said that effort makes a significant impact for the event.

“Historically, we haven’t had a lot of corporate support in Baltimore,” she explained. “Working with Steve has almost quadrupled our sponsorships since last year. We’re really excited to have those larger teams come out and support the walk, as well.”

Davis said the goal is for Baltimore’s walk/run to raise $175,000 – less than 10 percent of the cost of one day’s work at St.  Jude. As of this writing, they’ve raised $28,720. Braun said individual and family participation is wonderful, but he wants more company teams to sign up.

“They’re going to come back saying they’re so proud to be involved in this as a company,” he said. “It’s a statement that our major players care, and they have that feeling of community service, community involvement.”

The competitive spirit helps. Braun wants Baltimore to be a top-10 city for St. Jude, which holds 5Ks in 60 communities nationwide. So far, Whiting-Turner Contracting, McCormick Spice Co., T. Rowe Price, Legg Mason, and Kelly & Associates are just a few of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce members who will help. And staff participation can boost morale in a way that feels a little less like work. 

“It’s a fun event, so it’s different from a gala where you might be doing business,” Davis said. 

With all the worthy causes to support, it can be hard to decide where to put time and energy. Braun believes St. Jude is universal. Its research and treatment have boosted the pediatric cancer survival rate from 20 percent when it was founded to more than 80 percent today.

“Everybody cares about giving children that chance,” Braun said.  

Marianne Rowan-Braun turned her interest in family care into a career, becoming CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Baltimore and then a vice president at University of Maryland Medical Center. Earlier this month, the Brauns welcomed their first grandchild—another a reminder of how precious good health and family can be, and how far one might go to care for both.

Five kilometers are just a start.

Click to register or donate to Baltimore’s St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer. 

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