Thrusting his fist into the breeze while riding his Harley-Davidson, Jeff Gordon has just rounded a hazardous turn on a narrow road in the mountains of Utah. Two years earlier, he collided here with a truck pulling a trailer full of firewood. The accident nearly took his lower left leg—and his life. Now he is elated to have conquered the turn, but he knows life sometimes has even more treacherous challenges—ones that may never be beaten, only endured.
“There’s no reason I should have lived through the crash. The comment I always get is, ‘Well, you had so many angels on the other side that helped you through that,’” says Gordon, whose career has taught him a thing or two about fighting long odds. Since 1998, he has been helping children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases as head of the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.
The accident was Gordon’s second brush with death since joining the NCCF. The other was being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000. He battled it for 18 months with massive amounts of chemotherapy. “I knew how scared I was, and I knew I was getting the best help I could,” Gordon says. “I could only imagine what a child goes through, not really in control of anything.”
With a caseload of more than 600, the NCCF has become a one-stop shop for children and their families coping with the scariest moments of their lives, providing more than 50 social, emotional, educational and psychological support services and programs at no cost.
“The only thing more tragic than a child being diagnosed with cancer or any life-threating illness is to have to go through that without hope—something that no child should be without, whether they’re sick or not,” Gordon says. “That’s really our whole vision and our goal at the foundation, to make sure we can lift the troubled spirits of these young children, who are in such a dark place in their lives, and give them hope and courage and eventually triumph.”
The NCCF has a budget of $1.8 million, a staff of 13 and is dependent on local grants and sponsors, making fundraising a crucial element of Gordon’s job. He was honored last year with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Las Vegas chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. One of the NCCF’s biggest partners is the Torino Foundation, which helped the NCCF set up a full-time classroom in Sunrise Children’s Hospital.
Settling in under the NCCF’s umbrella this year is the Caring Place, a nonprofit that provides healing-arts and wellness services to adults with cancer. The Caring Place’s eastside office allows the NCCF to have a presence on both sides of the Valley and creates synergies to help children of adults with cancer.
Gordon’s easygoing manner belies a fierce determination to better identify children’s needs, let families know what resources are available, and inspire the community to get involved in the NCCF’s mission.
“The experiences, the challenges and even the tragedies we go through, we go through for reasons—to strengthen us, and more importantly, to strengthen others who will follow.”