When Donna Reed stepped onto the softball diamond in 1984, she had no idea that she was about to become “married to baseball.” Marty Reed, now Bullpen Coach for the Atlanta Braves coached the opposing team. The two met, and the rest is baseball history.
A decade later, the couple set down roots in Albemarle, North Carolina, with their twin sons, and Marty was hired as a pitching coach by the Braves in 2008.
While Marty was away, Donna sacrificed her own career for her family. Still, she always had a soft spot for children and found opportunities to help those who struggled the most, tutoring and substitute teaching while her sons were in school.
When Marty was promoted to the Atlanta Braves in 2016, Donna was ready to move up to the big leagues in terms of volunteerism.
“I began to follow a few stories concerning children with pediatric cancer on social media,” Donna explains. “Reading their stories and the heart-wrenching posts from the parents, propelled me to become more active in awareness of pediatric cancers.”
She and Marty joined with the Atlanta Braves Foundation, the non-profit arm of the baseball club, and became active with community events. The Reeds also connected with Sara Orton, Development Director for the Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“Their support of our oncology patients has been a blessing to the patients and families we serve,” Orton explained.
Donna coordinated monthly dinners for patients and families at the Pediatric Oncology floor at Aflac Cancer Center, inspiring the Braves family to step up to the plate and visit the inpatient unit, serving meals to the families. “Donna and Marty have used their position to provide encouragement and well-wishes to the patients at the Aflac Cancer Center,” Orton says. “We are so thankful to Donna and the Braves wives for their tireless commitment to our families.”
Orton led Donna to CURE Childhood Cancer, a non-profit group dedicated to improving the survival of children with cancer by advancing research, supporting patients and their families. “From the first moment she walked into our office, her heart for the children and families we serve shined through,” Kristin Connor, Executive Director for CURE Childhood Cancer says.
“At that time, I did not know a single person whose child had been affected by this.” Then their family was thrown a curveball. Donna’s nephew, Connor, was diagnosed with Ewing’s-like sarcoma at age twenty. “It became very personal to me.”
Many people empathize with children and families dealing with childhood illnesses but become immobilized to act. “It’s heart-wrenching to read,” Donna agrees.
A friend asked how Donna was able to follow the stories of children in need on social media. Her response was thought-provoking, “We, as human beings, cannot turn away because it’s heart-wrenching. If this were your child, grandchild, niece, or nephew, would you want people to turn their heads and not help?”
Propelled by her efforts in Atlanta, Donna wrote a proposal for Albemarle City Mayor Pro Tem, Martha Sue Hall, about proclaiming September Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. The proposal was passed by the city council and the county board of commissioners.
“Donna is the idea behind all of this,” Martha Sue Hall says, “I am humbled that she asked me to be a part of it.”
Donna also met Erin Santos, founder of the Isabella Santos Foundation in Charlotte, committed to their vision to raise funding for pediatric cancer research, and signed on for their fundraising run. “When I met with Donna, she blew me away with her commitment to finding a cure for kids with cancer and I knew that her help would help us be successful,” Erin Santos explains.
According to CURE Childhood Cancer’s website, only 4% of federal cancer research funding is allocated for pediatric cancer research. “It blows my mind this is all, hence why these foundations work feverishly to raise money and awareness,” Donna explains. “It is sad that money is more important than our children who are the future of this country.”
Donna and Marty are still on the same team, but now their goal is to strike out pediatric cancer. What’s next? Donna is petitioning North Carolina to designate September pediatric cancer month, and she doesn’t plan to take “no” for an answer.
Thankfully, Donna’s nephew is now cancer-free, but she is continuing the fight. “I have always felt God was preparing and guiding me towards this. The promotion of Marty helped place me in the right place. God always has a plan, so I do try to follow what he pushes me towards.”