In 1986, a small group of friends in Bloomington came together to help a family in need. The family was faced with thousands of dollars in future medical bills and unforeseen costs as their child needed an organ transplant.
As this group of friends rallied their community in various fundraising efforts, $100,000 was raised. Surprised and so grateful for the community’s contributions, this small group of people realized there had to be many others in the same, or similar, situations. They came together on a larger scale and founded what is known today as the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA).
$100 Million Later
Now, 30 years later, COTA has helped raise over $100 million to assist 3,000 families in every single state. “I think about that group that first raised $100,000, and now here we are 30 years later and have raised $100 million. I really think it is a testimony that communities can and will certainly help others,” said Kristy Brown, COTA’s Director of Campaigns.
The core COTA team resides in Indiana, and they are headquartered in Bloomington. There are two employees that work remotely outside of Indiana, but despite the various locations, COTA’s employees have one common mission: to help fully fund children and young adults who are faced with having a life-saving transplant.
COTA’s primary goal is to help families and communities with fundraising and overall support in reaching their goal of raising thousands of dollars to offset not only surgery costs, but other, often overlooked costs, such as lodging during the surgery/surgeries, travel, medications, missed income while parents have to take extended time off work and various other expenses.
The COTA staff is led by President and CEO Rick Lofgren, who after 19 years of working with COTA, has taken it from a small 501(c)(3) to a large organization with 19 full-time employees. “Rick is a very hands-on CEO. He is involved in the small and the large details. That is one reason COTA has grown to what it is today,” explained Brown.
Providing Training and Assistance
COTA provides support and assistance in coaching families and community volunteers in their fundraising efforts. They train volunteers, brainstorm fundraising efforts, assist in setting up website pages and provide social media tips, templates and/or overall guidance to help families reach whatever their fundraising goal might be. There are also in-house coaches at COTA that help support the Campaign teams as well as a Communications team and a Marketing team that handles public relations, so the public can hear the personal transplant journeys.
“Being a 501(c)(3) organization, there are specific guidelines that must be followed as we publicly share fundraising efforts,” Brown said. Employees are there, in part, to make sure the families and communities follow the correct guidelines. The most widely used fundraising events are often benefit dinners, silent auctions, concerts, 5Ks, golf tournaments and restaurant nights that give a percentage of sales to each family in need. “We have found that one idea does not necessarily fit all,” said Brown. “What works in one region may not work in another, so we try to cater our ideas to that specific geographical area.”
One of the most amazing facts about COTA, other than the mission they meet for families throughout the United States, is that all their services are provided at no cost to families. All the hours and efforts are free! One hundred percent of funds raised by COTA community campaigns are put toward families and their bills/costs associated with transplants.
Also inspiring is that COTA’s operation costs are fully donated by private donors (all donations are tax-deductible). COTA calls these donors “Miracle Makers,” and there are over 200,000 of them nationwide. Each year in June, an annual Miracle Makers Celebration is held in Indiana. This event is the primary fundraiser each year for COTA. It includes a silent auction and dinner and always hosts an honoree.
This year’s event, to be held June 24, will honor the JLH Foundation (Texas), which has assisted COTA families throughout Texas. In addition to this year’s honoree, a COTA family will share their journey, so others there can hear firsthand how COTA has helped a family in need of a life-saving organ transplant.
The services that COTA offers include organ transplants but are not limited to actual organs. Services may also include stem cell transplants, bone marrow transplants and more common transplants like liver, kidney, heart and lung transplants, some of which may be due to diseases such as cystic fibrosis or polycystic kidney syndrome. Once a patient goes through an organ transplant, COTA’s services do not end. They continue for the patient’s entire life! Often, there are so many follow-up appointments – many going on for years – and COTA helps to cover each patient for their lifetime.
When faced with a life-changing surgery, families are often rightfully focused on their child/the patient. COTA comes right beside each and every community and family – often in times that seem overwhelming and hopeless – and provides hope, strength and guidance. Thank you, COTA, for making such a monumental difference in so many people’s lives!
In Indiana alone, COTA has served more than 100 families over the past 30 years. For anyone interested in becoming a Miracle Maker donor, volunteering or for more information on this outstanding Indiana-based company, please contact COTA at 1-800-366-2682 or visit their website at COTA.org.