Friday, December 9, 2022

Local organization brings together two passions to celebrate one life

Nearly two years after the death of Wes Pak, his family continues his legacy with a non-profit that combines support for pediatric cancer and environmentalism. (WYDaily/Krista Pak)
Nearly two years after the death of Wes Pak, his family continues his legacy with a non-profit that combines support for pediatric cancer and environmentalism. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Krista Pak)

As Krista Pak continues to remember her son who died in 2018, the foundation bearing her son’s name is also taking on a new life.

For many years, Krista Pak’s son, Wes Pak, fought a battle against neuroblastoma. Wes was diagnosed in 2011, just one month after graduating from preschool. 

Despite the daily mental and physical challenges that came with the cancer, Wes rose above the struggles to find a way to not only help others but also his environment. 

Krista and her family in 2014 started a nonprofit called United in Grace that helped support families who have a child with cancer, who have children who’ve survived cancer and those mourning the loss of children to cancer.

When Wes was alive, his spirit contributed to the environment of the group and after he died in 2018, the organization was renamed the Wes Strong Foundation.

“We wanted to make it a full representation of who he was and what his passions were,” his mother said. “The reason behind all of it is because when Wes was alive, he was so passionate.”

Krista said the organization has raised money to help families financially and has even hosted an annual toy drive that was originally started by Wes and helps bring hundreds of toys to families each year.

She added the organization is also unique because it not only helps families who are going through cancer treatments with a child, but also for those who are mourning the loss of a child.

“When your child has passed, it can feel like you’re alone to pick up the pieces,” she said. “We want them to know we’re here for them.”

But while the organization has worked to help families for a number of years, it has also spread its wings to help with environmental causes and support animal rehabilitation facilities.

Krista said for some people, a pediatric cancer nonprofit that helps with the environment might seem random.

But for those who knew Wes, it makes sense.

Wes had a passion for the environment and wanted to become a marine biologist. Throughout his battle with cancer, this was a dream that always stuck with him and even though his time was cut short, his family wants to make sure they lift those dreams up.

“Wes was a unique child, he was very passionate about many things,” Krista said. “And like Wes, the foundation is unique because it supports two different causes but ties them together. Because our environment and children are our future and we need to protect them.”

In addition to its support services, the organization now also hosts regular cleanups, an annual fishing tournament and a number of other environmental preservation activities.

The Wes Strong Foundation is also hosting a virtual cleanup challenge in September as a way to bring in funds for families fighting cancer, Krista said. People from across the country can register for $12 and will collect trash around their community and weigh it each day. During which, participants will ask their friends and families to sponsor them. Those who raise $50 or more will earn a free t-shirt.

Krista will be doing her own version of the challenge throughout the contest. She has committed to collecting 540 pounds of trash throughout September, which represents the average amount of trash disposed of by a single family in a month. She will dedicate her efforts each day to a person or family impacted by pediatric cancer.

That’s just one of the new ways the organization is adapting and growing to continue Wes’s legacy.

It has been nearly two years since Wes died, but his mother is constantly proud to see the organization continue to grow. Despite only having a handful of volunteers, the Wes Strong Foundation has spread its message and its work throughout the community.

But for his mother, it means more just to know his spirit can still thrive through the organization.

“It’s really personal to me, I know a lot of other people might think it’s just another organization, but it’s my way of keeping Wes alive,” she said. “This foundation is Wes to me.”

For more information, visit the Wes Strong Foundation online

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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