July 13, 2015 – The Desert Review
by Michelle Smith
“This is more than a foundation. It’s more like a calling. A real passion.” – Richard Nares of The Emilio Nares Foundation
San Diego resident Richard Nares believes he is walking in his life’s calling; and because of his dedication to this calling, the lives of many young cancer patients in Imperial Valley have been changed.
After losing their son, Emilio, to Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2000, Richard and Diane Nares had no idea that something so wonderful could blossom out of their tragedy.
But several years after the tragic loss of their son, Richard founded The Emilio Nares Foundation (ENF). Now ten years later, Nares has been featured as a CNN Hero of the Year finalist, another family has named their son “Emilio,” in honor of the Nares’ son, and the foundation has been honored by President Obama and the United States Surgeon General as a model program.
Although the recognition is satisfying, Nares said he was not seeking the accolades. For him, he was simply helping others in the way he could, for the needs he saw.
The Emilio Nares Foundation specializes in providing programs and services for “low-income, underprivileged families” whose children are battling cancer. “Ride with Emilio” is the foundation’s flagship program, providing families transportation to and from the hospital for chemo treatments, radiation, and other necessary appointments.
Nares became aware of the huge need for transportation services during his time at the hospital while his son underwent treatments, he said.
“Transportation was always a big issue,” Nares said. “After we went through all we did with our son, the hospital (Rady Children’s Hospital) asked me to talk with newly diagnosed patients, to give them comfort. As that grew, I saw these needs that needed to be addressed. Transportation was the forefront of which to start with,” he said.
In the beginning, Nares used his own car, a Buick Park Avenue, to provide transportation to those in need.
“I picked up families for six weeks. Then more and more families were requesting rides. I used my own car until it became too overwhelming,” Nares said.
Then he began coordinating with a social worker to come up with a plan for more consistent mass transportation services.
“I knew it would cost money,” Nares said, “but no one had ever tackled the (transportation) problem before. Other organizations tried, but no one wanted to take on the liability.”
Consistency and dependability were his main goals.
“I just wanted the kids to get there on time,” he said. “We needed to be reliable for the families. Any missed appointments can greatly affect the outcome of their treatments.”
In 2004, Nares began fundraising and writing grants to sustain the program, and in June of 2005, he personally raised $120,000 — enough to launch the Emilio Nares Foundation. ENF quickly expanded to provide transportation to families in San Diego, Orange County, and now, the Imperial Valley.
In April of 2015, the foundation began providing transportation to Valley families. It currently has a van stationed locally, that makes the two-hour trip to Rady Children’s Hospital three times a week with a local driver. As in Orange County and San Diego, the van arrives at the home of the sick children, and takes them directly from their home to the hospital.
“These kids really need help,” he said. “The families we serve really struggle, and don’t have basic needs that a lot of Californians take for granted.”
When Rady Children’s informed Nares of the 118 patients from the Imperial Valley, Nares got to work fundraising to cover the transportation costs.
Initial set-up costs to the foundation totaled $100,000, which includes purchasing a 15 passenger van and then adding ENF signage, and changing the interior from cloth to vinyl. Each van has to have vinyl to keep it clean, Nares said.
Additional annual costs total $50,000 to service each van, including gas, vehicle maintenance, and paying the driver.
Of the 118 cancer patients from the Valley, over 60 percent need rides, Nares said. Additionally, a hemophilia blood disorder is present in a large population of the local sick kids.
“I am extremely grateful to the Imperial Valley county, families, and officials for allowing us to come and welcoming us with big, open arms,” Nares said.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but boy, the community has wrapped their arms around the program, and will help make it a success.”
Nares is passionate about helping every child in need, in every hospital, across the country. The foundation has partnered with San Francisco Children’s Hospital, where they will be launching Ride with Emilio in the spring of 2016. From there, Nares hopes to expand the program to Los Angeles and beyond.
“My experience changed our life dramatically,” Nares said. “There’s always so much to do, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to contribute to much of that.”
“So much of what we do comes from our son – the memory of him and the kids we serve now, inspire me to do what I do. My own son fought hard and I remember the pain, just the daily grind and fear and stress these families are going through.”
“I always think he’s telling me, ‘there’s a lot more to do, Dad. You’re not going anywhere.’”
“This is more than a foundation. It’s more like a calling. A real passion,” Nares said.
Partnering with The Emilio Foundation is always welcomed. According to Nares, every dollar counts. “Any kind, whatever anyone would like to do – from a lemonade stand, to giving a dollar or a dime, makes a big difference,” he said.
“It gives you a different perspective when you get the chance to meet the folks you’re helping. This funding helps save that child’s life. It’s a long journey anywhere from 2 ½ to 3 or 4 years, and we are with these families every step of the way. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is, to know that we are helping,” he said.
Anyone interested in donating or partnering with ENF can find more information at enfhope.org.
“We’re looking forward to a long, long partnership with the Imperial Valley,” Nares said.