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Dragonfly has big plans to keep helping kids

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Posted at 9:46 AM, Oct 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-05 09:46:39-04

Marty Brennaman’s head was shaved because the Reds won. The Reds broadcaster had promised then-coach Chris Speier he’d shave it if the Reds’ winning streak back in July 2012 reached 10 games. It did and Brennaman did, right on the Great American Ball Park field after a Friday night game.

The winning streak is not what anyone remembers. What they remember is what happened next, when Brennaman pulled off his barber’s cape and Reds jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the words “I Am Still Me;" embraced three small cancer patients with similar, if smaller, shirts and bald heads; and introduced the crowd and a TV audience to a Mason nonprofit called the Dragonfly Foundation.

“If I can use a sports analogy, it was a grand slam. Or maybe a football underdog coming back to win in the last second,” said Ria Davidson, co-founder of the Dragonfly Foundation. “It meant so much. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.”

Brennaman’s gesture brought Dragonfly some welcome buzz, and the foundation, which helps young cancer and bone-marrow transplant patients and their families, capitalized. Operating in a realm where the vast majority of nonprofits, best of intentions aside, don’t make it past a second year, Dragonfly just celebrated its fifth birthday.

Christine Neitzke and Davidson founded Dragonfly in 2010, after Neitzke’s youngest son, Matt, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The mission is “to bring comfort and joy to kids and young adults and their families who are enduring cancer treatments and bone-marrow transplants.” Dragonfly stages frequent fundraisers and works with hundreds of volunteers to support its 12 programs.

Matt Neitzke

Working with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dragonfly helped more than 600 registered patients and 2,500 family members in 2014.

Dragonfly also is getting closer to its goal of an ambitious new mixed-use neighborhood called The Landing 3.0, which would include gathering space for families, complete with with a boutique hotel and residential apartments open to the public on a campus of 15 to 20 acres. Davidson said Dragonfly is hoping to raise $15 million for the project, is looking at three potential sites and would like to complete the project in the next two years.

The foundation’s current Landing in Mason, including a video conference area with 50-inch flat screen, a “Flight Club” game room, two craft areas and living-room space, is 6,000 square feet; the Landing clubhouse in the new project would more than double that.

The Dragonfly Foundation also envisions miniature golf and a Zen garden in its private portion of the campus. What helps make the project unique is the public-private aspect, with the hotel and apartments open to the public beyond some foundation use, and water features, nature trails, fitness center and amphitheater among shared features.

“The people who utilize the village will be vision-conscious,” Davidson said. “They might be paying a little more but they’ll know it’s going to comfort and joy. Everything we take in goes not to research but to quality of life.”

Dragonfly stages outings to sporting events and concerts, entertains patients -- “Dragonfiles” – at their current Landing, and provides gift cards and other financial assistance.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to never say no to a single request, which is wonderful,” Davidson said.

Davidson calls the foundation’s support “very grass-roots.” Almost all donations are less than $5,000; most are substantially less.

How can you help? Gift cards are particularly welcome, Davidson said, including gas cards – some families need help with the expense of travel. (To help, you can visit dragonfly.org, or text TDF to 91999.)

Also, Davidson said, while all gifts are welcome, there’s usually a great need for support on the young-adult end of the spectrum.

“They’re not playing with dolls, but they might like video games, or to go online to go shopping,” Davidson said. “They’re the ones missing the parties, the dates they’re not going on, the high school football game.”

Dragonfly has a staff of just six full-time employees (Davison, Neitzke, Zak Geier, Carrie Ellis, Colleen Berlinger and Kyle Weldon) and one part-time employee, Kathy Doering, but works with 600 volunteers to carry out their programs.

“We can’t do enough, and we can’t move fast enough,” Davidson said.