Volunteers for Normal Moments, Inc. give parents of critically ill children relief from daily chores like housecleaning, lawn mowing, and meal preparation so they can spend as much time as possible sharing the most normal moments with their sick children.
What started as a neighborly act of kindness by Chicago-area graduate assistant David Orlicz – helping a single mother and her terminally ill daughter – has turned into a network of angels that have benefited more than 70 families in Chicago and northwest Indiana during the past year. (Photo, volunteer Julie Domres delivers food for Normal Moments)
Orlicz, a fine arts major, didn’t suspect that anything out of the ordinary would happen when he first befriended Patricia Fragen and her daughter, Melissa, in 2003, and took a job tutoring the girl in clarinet, oboe and saxophone.
But in August 2005, Melissa was diagnosed with osteosarcoma cancer. Orlicz stepped in by housesitting whenever Melissa faced an extended hospital stay and the Fragens’ three dogs needed care. Staying just a few days at first, Melissa was eventually treated out of state and David gladly managed their home affairs for two full months.
Melissa died in April 2007. But before she did, she told her mother, “Everybody deserves a David” – someone they can rely on for help.
“Without my dear friend David, who stepped in to care for the dogs, plants and house during extended hospital stays both locally and out-of-town, I never would have survived,” Fragen writes on the Normal Moments volunteer website.
“Sometimes, when we had to be at the hospital on a cold winter morning, I discovered that my neighbor had gotten up early and shoveled my driveway. On those special days, I had some extra time to share with my daughter and one less cause for exhaustion.
When Melissa stopped eating everything but sushi, friends and family created the ‘Sushi Fund’ at her favorite restaurant so the family wouldn’t go broke feeding her. And when no one else really understood what it was like to sit by your child’s side while her body struggles to survive, Sheryl Diller, a close friend and now a Normal Moments board member, was there to reminisce about her similar experience. ” I knew I was not alone,” said Fragen.
Those were the sparks that led to the idea for Normal Moments and Patricia Fragen herself runs the 501(c)(3) charity as its president.
David Orlicz (left) – when he’s not directing his marching band or working toward his teaching certificate – is the vice president, recruiting and training volunteers.
They now have about 30 qualified volunteers serving local families. Those who provide moral support, by simply listening or being a sounding board to parents’ venting, are called “I-Beams.” Those who help in the home are called “Davids”.
Their work has received national attention after a segment on the Martha Stewart TV show, after which people across the country, from Seattle to Tampa, called wanting to start chapters in their communities. Orlicz is looking for financial support and volunteers to serve Indianapolis.
So far, though, he’s happy with the progress they’ve made.
“It’s remarkable,” he says, “especially considering the percentage of startup non-profits that don’t make it through the first year. We’re going really strong.”
And it all started with a small act of kindness.