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St. Louis Charity TASK - Team Activities for Special Kids - Thriving in its Third Decade Thanks to Businesses & STL Community

The St. Louis-based charity TASK – Team Activities for Special Kids – remains eager and excited for donations of all sizes year-round. “We're incredibly blessed,” said TASK Executive Director Deb Fruend. “Thanks to folks like you.”

The folks, in this case, are the members of First Integrity Mortgage. The mortgage & home loan company that started in St. Louis in 1993 has made community-building and giving back a priority as part of its core business.

“Every quarter we choose a different local charity to give back to,” said Executive Vice President Joe Bayer, Jr.

“These organizations are chosen directly by the First Integrity team. TASK was a perfect choice. Homes create a safe and thriving environment for families. TASK creates that same environment for children with special needs. It's a perfect fit.”

 

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July 24, 2017

From Billboards to Bike Races, Lucy is the Face of a Leukemia Survivor

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Just before she turned five months, Lucy Bacott was taken to the hospital. What was thought to be a stomach bug turned out to be much worse: Lucy was diagnosed with high-risk infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Had it not been for a concerned mother taking her child to the hospital and the round-the-clock efforts of doctors and nurses in the first 24 hours, Lucy could have suffered severe organ damage, or worse. 

She underwent an aggressive treatment of near-constant chemotherapy for the next year. 

Five months after she ended treatment, Lucy relapsed. “Devastated doesn't even begin to describe our feelings,” said Josh Bacott, Lucy's father. 

The Bacott's hoped to avoid a bone marrow transplant for Lucy. Prayers were answered when she was accepted into a T-cell therapy clinical trial in Seattle in March 2015. The process proved successful for a short period, but the modified T-cells were deemed no longer active in September 2015. While not a relapse, the likelihood of a relapse was great. After another T-cell infusion failed, Lucy had the bone marrow transplant in December 2015. 

In print-form, these words look tough to deal with but anyone who has experienced the severe ups and downs that come with blood cancers – either personally or through a family member or close friend – can tell you it is much worse. Words don't do the experience and the feelings justice.

Fortunately, Lucy is about 19 months out from her transplant and has been in full remission since February 2015. It's a tribute to a lot of factors, including the amazing advancements made in medicine and research thanks to organizations like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). 

A FACE ON THE BILLBOARD

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“She was featured on several billboards throughout St. Louis as part of LLS' Moms in Training program,” said Josh. “Kind of surreal to be driving to the hospital that she’s staying at and, on the way, pass a billboard with her face on it.” 

It was the Bacott's first interaction with the organization, one that they remain closely tied to today. Thankfully, Lucy Bacott's face has become the face of another survivor who has benefited in part from the generosity of people. Charitable donations from businesses, friends or individuals go a long way. 

“I’ve been friends with the Bacott's since college,” said Joe Bayer, Jr. “When friends have their world turned upside down, you always feel a sense of duty to support them. I couldn’t be happier with my decision after learning the value of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and what it does for patients, research, and the families.”

Bayer is the Executive Vice President at First Integrity Mortgage Services, headquartered in St. Louis. His experience with the Bacott's and LLS led to First Integrity donating its quarterly contribution to the organization early this summer. 

“One of the neatest things I've seen is the people,” said Bayer, Jr. “The individuals and families affected by leukemia or lymphoma are smothered with warmth and love from other families. They are their own support group. It's truly amazing!”

Through financial donations from individuals and businesses like Bayer, Jr. and First Integrity, LLS has altered the outlook for blood cancer patients. The survival rates have tripled and in some cases quadrupled since the organization's inception in 1949. 

“I think the biggest benefit that we see from the organization comes in the form of medical and technological advancements that they help fund,” said Bacott. 

“During Lucy's three years of treatment at three different hospitals, we saw and experienced multiple treatments and drugs that likely weren’t available five years ago. Treatments like the immunotherapy clinical trial she participated in are the kind that the LLS seeks out and sponsors in the early phases. They are critical to the ongoing progress against blood cancer,” said Bacott.

The numbers back up the advancements. 

First Integrity Mortgage - Joe Bayer Jr.

Rich Sloan, Director, LLS Gatway; Joe Bayer, Jr.; & Debbie Kersting, Executive Director, LLS Gateway

 

In 2016 alone, LLS invested $49.3 Million in cutting-edge research. 

LLS also distributed more than $40 Million in co-pay assistance in 2016 and provided separate funding for travel assistance to blood cancer patients with significant financial needs. 

Rest assured that when you get that email, letter in the mail or text from that friend or cousin asking for a donation to LLS, you now have context. 

When you hear or see Lucy's story – and the countless others like her's – the context is personalized.  

FROM BILLBOARDS TO BIKE RACES

In 2016, Lucy was asked to be the honored hero for the Gateway Chapter cycling team for their 100-mile bike ride in Lake Tahoe, known as “America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride”. Together the team raised over $120,000. 

“With that money raised from the bike ride, we were able to dedicate a research portfolio for pediatric blood cancer in Lucy’s name and stayed in touch with people from the team and LLS throughout the year,” said Josh.

That experience turned Josh into a cyclist at the 2017 ride in Tahoe. With just a few months notice, no cycling experience, and no teammates, Bacott enlisted in friends and family. Naturally, he reeled in his college friend, Joe Bayer, Jr.

Collectively, the team raised over $100,000 at the 2017 event, and every member of Bacott's team completed the 100-mile ride in Tahoe. 

 

Lucy with Daddy at the 2017 Great American Bike Ride.

“Seeing people from all over the country, all with different stories to tell of how they’ve been impacted by blood cancer, come together to raise money and participate in an event like that is pretty inspiring,” said Josh.

“Needless to say, we’re signed up again for 2018.”

What about Joe Bayer, Jr? Does he have another bike ride in him?

“Oh yeah, I'm definitely riding again,” he said. “Now I'm the one who won't stop bugging people to sign up and ride for the cause.” 

And Lucy's story continues beyond billboards and biking. 

You can learn more and sign up for America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride right here

ABOUT THE LEUKEMIA LYMPHOMA SOCIETY (LLS)

LLS' mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since 1949, LLS has invested $1 billion in research aimed at helping all blood cancer patients live longer, healthier lives. Its research has been a driving force behind treatment breakthroughs for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. 

ABOUT FIRST INTEGRITY MORTGAGE SERVICES

First Integrity Mortgage Services is an independent, mortgage-banking firm. Buyers, Realtors(R) and loan officers have all come to trust the precision of the First Integrity system. Over its history, First Integrity has lent billions and served thousands of satisfied clients.

ABOUT AMERICA'S MOST BEAUTIFUL BIKE RIDE

June 3, 2018 at Lake Tahoe, NV. This ride provides cyclists of all ages and experience levels with breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding wilderness. The ride features multiple distance options – including 50, 62 and a 100-mile option that takes riders to historic Truckee before descending back into town. Every rider has access to numerous rest stops and event support for an outstanding ride experience. To sign up, donate or learn more information, visit the Team In Training site.

October 11, 2017

St. Louis Out-of-the-Darkness Walk Sheds Light on Suicide Awareness & Prevention

 

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On October 01, thousands of people walked for a cause at Creve Coeur Park. It was the 2017 Out-of-the-Darkness St. Louis Walk by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

The walk is a nationwide effort. Hundreds of thousands of people donate their time and money to raise awareness & funds that allow the AFSP to invest in research & educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.

AFSP has been able to set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025.

“There is such a stigma with suicide and mental illness that I was afraid people would look down on my brother and focus on how he died and not the wonderful person he was,” said Katy Wildman.

Wildman is a survivor of suicide loss. She lost her brother, J.R. in March 2012.

“After I attended the first walk. I learned a lot about suicide and mental illness. It really helped me cope and understand my brother’s death," she said.

Katy works at St. Louis-based First Integrity Mortgage Services. Every financial quarter, her company presents a cash donation to causes voted on by company employees.

This go-around, the team voted to not only donate funds to the 2017 walk, but also walk as a team to support their colleague.

“This was a no-brainer decision for our entire team,” said Executive Vice President Joe Bayer, Jr.

“When Katy shared her story with us, it was obvious we could make an impact for something very important. Preventing the loss of life is as important as it gets and as she says, suicide can be prevented with proper communication and discussion,” he said.

“Its great that I work for a company that is involved with charities in the community and even better that I can pick one that is so close to my heart,” Katy said.

The work done by AFSP touches many lives and families. The education and help it provides transcend comfort-levels and stigmas.

“AFSP talks about how you need to break the silence and the stigma and talk about it. I know if there wasn’t a stigma and people were not afraid to get help then my brother would still be here," said Katy.

"He needed help and I had no idea he was struggling. Maybe he felt embarrassed or did not know where to go for help. It's why AFSP is so important: it teaches you how to help others and it helps people who are struggling with their own mental illness.”

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The research for mental health, the awareness raised and the support for survivors of loved ones who lost their life to suicide is making a difference.

“If AFSP hadn't taught me to break the stigma, I may not have brought this up at my work - which means another whole group of people would have gone without learning about suicide,” says Katy.

“Every year our team at the walk gets bigger and we raise more money."

The 2017 Out-of-the-Darkness Walk achieved its financial goal of $205,000, raising $234,669.

"I am part of AFSP to save someone's brother, sister or loved one. I want people to know its OK to ask for help."

Infographic courtesy AFSP.org

ABOUT THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICICDE PREVENTION

AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. AFSP creates a culture that's smart about mental health through education and community programs, develops suicide prevention through research and advocacy, and provides support for those affected by suicide. AFSP is headquartered in New York and has local chapters in all 50 states, with programs and events nationwide.

ABOUT FIRST INTEGRITY MORTGAGE SERVICES

First Integrity Mortgage Services is an independent, mortgage-banking firm. Buyers, Realtors and loan officers have all come to trust the precision of the First Integrity system. Over its history, First Integrity has lent billions and served thousands of satisfied clients.


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