On the Wings of Hope and Happiness

Photo by Michael Bambino

The Dragonfly Foundation, like its colorful namesake,  symbolizess hope, courage and happiness for those who might not have a tomorrow. 

For the past five years, the Cincinnati-based foundation has brought comfort and joy to children, young adults and their families enduring cancer and bone marrow transplants, making sure patients’ lives are more about living fully than surviving a sad, painful ordeal. This charitable organization is known for providing support to young patients, their siblings, offspring, parents and other caregivers, as well to social workers and partner hospitals in Ohio and Illinois. The support comes in the form of Caring, Community and Awareness that results in better Emotional health (C.A.R.E.).

“When your loved one has cancer, you are concerned about their daily life and how they are managing and coping,” says Dragonfly co-founder Ria Davidson.  “Nobody is doing what we do at the scope and scale we do it – with 12 programs and up to a dozen events per week for patients and their families to enjoy” 

These events serve as distractions from the emotional, physical and financial toll of cancer and bone marrow transplants, as well as the post-traumatic stress associated with diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The foundation’s patient and family registrations increased 33 percent in the last year.

The Dragonfly Foundation also helps establish vital connections between the patients’ families/caregivers and their communities at a trying time when they feel most isolated and alone. Both Davidson and her best friend of more than two decades, Christine Neitzke, Dragonfly co-founder, know the dark feelings inherent with the challenges of managing the care of a loved one with cancer, both in the hospital and at home. Neitzke’s youngest son, Matt, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 2010, and he almost lost his life twice due to complications. Davidson, who cared for her late mother-in-law after she was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer, was one of the people who helped the Neitzke family through their heart-wrenching journey.

“We were fortunate,” says Neitzke. “We had people who dedicated themselves to making Matt and our family smile. We know that other kids and families are not as lucky.” 

Knowing there are so many kids with cancer and their families who are suffering, Davidson says, she and Neitzke just couldn’t look away. Thus, the idea for the Dragonfly Foundation was hatched. The organization held 92 fundraisers last year yet continues to be challenged by the demand  for its many services locally and nationally. The main fundraiser, The Dragonfly Grand Gala, will be held Saturday, February 11, at the Renaissance Hotel, downtown. Tickets cost $175.

Why the dragonfly as the foundation’s symbol? 

“We wanted an icon, and we did not want the word ‘cancer’ in the name,” Davidson says. “Something easily recognized and drawn by kids. We wanted to start something like a club they could join, where they felt they belonged. You know, like, ‘Are you a Dragonfly? I’m a Dragonfly.’ ” Butterflies and lady bugs were considered, but the dragonfly was the top pick because in many cultures, it symbolizes strength, courage and happiness.

“They fly really fast,” Davidson continues. “And the donations come in and go out to the cancer patients and their families just as fast. That is why our number one need is donations. Our second largest need is finding a permanent location for our ‘clubhouse.’ We call it ‘The Landing.’ ” It’s a 6,000-square-foot building that needs to be expanded to accommodate the growing number of families served by the foundation. It is a great place for Dragonfly families to connect and support one another. The clubhouse motto? “Every Dragonfly Needs a Place to Land.” 

“The Dragonfly Foundation is amazing,” says John Perentesis, MD, director of the Division of Oncology and Cancer Programs at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. “It is a unique organization that is really out of the box, that actually focuses on the patient experience and the struggles and other issues patients and their families are facing day to day when getting treatment for cancer. Really, the goal and mission of bringing joy and happiness to families is extraordinarily needed and fills a huge void in care for families across the country.”


The Dragonfly Foundation’s primary services

“Gifts” for the hospital, patients and families/caregivers. Distractions (toys, electronics, video games, etc.) and items provided directly to the hospital for inventory replenishment and to patients; new diagnosis/extended stay CARE packages, made up of personal care items, office and laundry supplies, hospital in-room meal cards and the foundation’s Parents to Parents Tip Booklet; the foundation’s “I Am Still Me” hair-loss care packages that include lint rollers, hats, scarves, jewelry, accessories, sunscreen, lotions, makeup, etc., as well as the foundation’s  “I Am Still Me” book.

Social events and entertainment. Donated tickets and suites at various venues (suites are especially important for young patients with compromised immune systems); Dragonfly-sponsored annual events such as Parents’ Night Out, picnics, Fall Fest, Holiday Party and others; day camp and spa day opportunities; caregiver, child-only, sibling-only and young adult-only events; and celebrity meet-and-greets.

Emotional health, awareness and support programs. Patient/family spaces in Cincinnati, such as The Landing clubhouse for patients’ families; the Dragonfly Suite at US Bank Arena, making it possible for all Dragonflies to have the opportunity to attend every concert and sporting and theatrical event held at that venue (the foundation accepts donated tickets to other local venues, as well); public awareness programs; laptop/technology program (the foundation has donated 52 laptops, more than 50 iPads, a charging station, video game systems and more to enhance patients’ quality of life in the hospital and to help them stay connected to the world outside the hospital); the international Beads of Courage arts-in-medicine supportive care program for children coping with serious illness; and SKYPANELS, the HD fluorescent light covers manufactured to look like skylights.

Community connections. Private social media pages to support patients and families, young adults, Dragonfly caregivers and “Dragonflies Who Have Flown”; public engagements and opportunities.


The Dragonfly Foundation is located at 9275 Governors Way, Cincinnati, OH 45249. For more information, call 513.494.6474, email info@dragonfly.org or visit www.dragonfly.org.