While selling ads on ESPN Radio by day and volunteering at many nonprofits – from Ronald McDonald House and being a Big Brother – during his spare time, Joey Powell realized something was missing. “I needed to do something more meaningful in my life.” He started small. “I had access to a lot of sporting event tickets, like hockey or baseball games, that were going unused.” So he began giving them to nonprofits, allowing kids to go to games and concerts.
One such organization was the Me Fine Foundation, where Joey was on the advisory board. Me Fine is a group that assists families of critically ill children treated at both UNC – Joey’s alma mater – and Duke children’s hospitals with financial and emotional support. It was a toe into the larger pond of his involvement helping kids.
At their Hope Valley Farms home, Joey’s wife, Rebecca, a children’s therapist, would fill him in on the needs of the children she was seeing in her Durham work. “We were lucky, we had a healthy daughter, Maddy,” he says. The calling kept at him.
Me Fine was started by Lori Lee and her family after her son, Folden, lost his battle against leukemia at the age of 2. During his 15-month fight with the disease at both UNC and Duke hospitals, whenever he was asked how he was feeling, his response was always the same: “Me fine.” Lori knew firsthand the difficulty of trying to care for a critically ill child while maintaining a life outside the hospital. Assisting families in this situation became Folden’s legacy.
After 10 years of heading the Me Fine Foundation, Lori decided it was time to hand over the reigns. Joey, who had displayed a passion for the work, seemed to be the right choice. “In February 2013, I left my corporate job and moved into the world of nonprofit,” Joey says. “One of the first things I did was go around to the hospitals to meet the stakeholders, like Dr. Wayne Price, head of the neonatal intensive care unit at UNC. He was a calming type of guy.” Joey couldn’t conceive the importance that initial meeting would soon have for him and his family.
Three months later, Joey and his now-pregnant wife were told that the baby she was carrying had spina bifida, and they were back at UNC in Dr. Price’s office, but now as parents of a soon- to-be patient. “Our son, Huck, was born 10 weeks early and spent 60 days in the NICU,” Joey says. “We were lucky; we had good insurance, flexible jobs and lots of support. But I fully understood what life is like for the families we help at Me Fine Foundation.”
Me Fine not only pays significant bills like mortgage payments or rent, but also for the smaller items that people don’t realize can cause pressures, like the $10 per day for parking at the hospital.
The foundation also runs a program called “Beads of Courage” – glass beads are given to the children for every procedure they endure. The kids receive a string to place their beads on, and can create a wrap bracelet or necklace. “It becomes the story of their treatment and a way for the kids to explain how many procedures they have had,” Joey explains. “Everything from a needle stick to an MRI gets a different bead.
“Having been the parent of a child under treatment, I understand better than ever that the best medicine for a child is having [their parents] there for emotional support,” Joey continues. “Me Fine wants to help relieve those parents’ pressures.” Thanks to Joey – though they may never meet him – parents can focus on what’s most crucial to their child’s well-being, without sweating the small stuff.