Saturday, June 02, 2007

Georgia Theta Chi's Go to Bat for Cancer Victims

In Shirlock’s memory Foundation raising money to support cancer patients
Kevin Hall

MOULTRIE — The death of a fraternity brother spurred the Theta Chi fraternity at Georgia Tech to reach out to other college students battling cancer.

When 24-year-old Jonathan Shirlock of Moultrie lost his battle with leukemia in April 2006, it hit all the brothers hard, but especially Brian Cook, a fellow Moultrian who knew him in high school and roomed with him at Georgia Tech.

“Jonathan always seemed to have a smile on his face,” Cook said by e-mail. “Most people who didn’t know him probably would not have even known that he was sick. Through all the chemotherapy and other treatments, he always managed to maintain his sense of humor and loved to design, draw and build things.

“A remarkably artistic individual, Jonathan’s T-shirt design was chosen for the 2003 Georgia Tech Homecoming T-shirt and the next year he had the winning Greek Week T-shirt design,” Cook said. “Jonathan was always willing to help others and really served as an inspiration to all of his friends and family.”

The fraternity was hit with another blow in March. Sara Keene, an Alpha Chi sorority sister who dated a Theta Chi brother, was diagnosed with the same illness.

Theta Chi, which had already raised money to help Shirlock’s family as he battled cancer, wanted to raise money in his memory and to help Keene too. The brothers planned a Cook’s Night Off, when campus organizations gave their cook the night off and donated the money they would have paid the cook.

But who to give the money to? The fraternity found there is no charity that specifically assists college students facing serious disease.

“While there are many organizations and programs dedicated to helping children, college students generally fall in a gray area when it comes to available assistance and help from other organizations,” Cook said. “College students are usually of an age where they are ineligible for help from children’s programs, but they are still dependent upon their parents. Some even reach a point where they may no longer be eligible for their parents’ insurance coverage.”

The Shirlock Foundation’s goal, Cook said, is to raise money for everyday living expenses for college students with leukemia. It is not earmarked for medical expenses but is intended instead for hotel costs, travel expenses, meals or any other expenditure.

“We want to leave the decision of how best to use the money to the patient and his or her family,” Cook said.

Cook’s Night Off was a success. More than 500 tickets were pre-sold and a few more sold on the day of the barbecue, according to chapter president Drew Thorp, quoted in a Georgia Tech publication.

“The fundraising is going well,” Cook said. “Cooks’ Night Off is the only big event we have held so far, but we have also received some individual contributions from people in Moultrie as well as others who were friends with Jonathan while he was at Georgia Tech.”

The money being raised now will be used as “seed money” to be invested so the foundation can make its grants with the interest. Cook said the group hopes to begin distributing money as early as next spring.

“Overall, we have received a tremendous response and support for the Shirlock Foundation,” he said. “A few weeks ago, we met with Jennifer Daly, the director of major gifts at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory and she feels as though we have found a specific group of people in need of help. When we met with Jennifer to explain what we are working towards, she was able to think of multiple patients who had been to Emory recently who fell in the category of college students with leukemia who had struggled financially and could benefit greatly from our help.”

Shirlock’s mother, Cynthia Cone, still lives in Moultrie. She said Cook has been keeping her informed by e-mail of what the foundation is doing. She said he had e-mailed just a week or so ago soliciting her ideas for a fund-raiser to be held here.

“Those Theta Chi boys have really stood by their mission,” Cone said. “They really stood by us when Jonathan was sick. … They really took care of their own brotherhood.”

The foundation has a website at www.shirlock.org, and Cook can be contacted at brian.cook@shirlock.org.


In Shirlock’s memory Foundation raising money to support cancer patients