Paula DuPré Pesmen’s life took an unexpected turn when her husband, Curt, was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. At the time, Paula was working as the Associate Producer of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone film in London. She returned home to Colorado when her husband received treatment.
“My first day returning to Potter, I got a misdirected call for a child who wanted to see the film before she died. She had about three weeks to live,” Paula recalls the phone call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Paula, along with director Chris Columbus, arranged a rough-cut screening for her, even though the film wasn’t finished yet.
Meeting with the little girl and her family, Paula was inspired to help other children. She initiated a program on the sets of Harry Potter, welcoming kids and their wishes from different organizations from all over the world. Paula shares, “I did more than 65 wishes, and spending time with those kids and families – it was amazing and magical.”
While working with these children, Paula realized that these families lacked a vital support system. Many parents told her, “People don’t know what to say or do, so they often don’t do anything.” Rather than having a strong support system, many families felt isolated during their child’s life-threatening illness.
What the parents had shared stuck with Paula, and after the third Harry Potter film, Curt and Paula returned to Colorado. She made a life-changing decision to leave the film world. What many would consider a dream career, Paula left behind to start There With Care.
When Paula was brainstorming There With Care, she didn’t want it to focus on one special day of support and connections with families going through a medical crisis. Instead, she wanted to help them through their entire journey.
In order to understand the needs of families and children who are critically ill, she turned to four families who had lost a child. “When I first had the idea, I called each of them, and I asked, ‘What would have helped your family?’” Paula recalls.
These families became the co-founders of the nonprofit and worked collectively to create all four of There With Care’s programs, which include Patient and Family Essentials, Housing Stability, Transportation Assistance, and Food Security.
An example of the work the group does is offering food assistance so families don’t have to take their sick children to the grocery store that can have life-threatening germs. Or transportation assistance so parents can get their children to chemotherapy and radiation treatments or visit their baby in the NICU.
“I had a mom recently tell me that in the cancer world, there’s a saying that family become strangers and strangers become family. I thought about that a lot because she said There With Care had become her family,” Paula shares. “That’s such an honor to know that she feels that support.”
It’s common for people to show up at the onset of the news but then go back to their normal routines afterward. Yet, these families need constant support throughout the illness. From the emotional hardships of having a sick child to the financial issues that arise, like a parent having to quit their job to take care of their child, these families encounter countless obstacles.
Paula emphasizes, “There With Care does show up, and we stay with them through that journey.”
There With Care works with 260 families a day. To support the mission, There With Care takes donations and is always looking for volunteers. To learn more about Paula’s extraordinary journey and There With Care, visit their website at therewithcare.org.