The Young Hearts Foundation   


Our Story


What began as a small group of family and friends, determined to continue a young boy’s fight against cancer, has evolved into so much more than any of us could have imagined.

 

Our Initial Inspiration – Ryan McLaughlin

 

Ryan McLaughlin was an adventurous 11-year-old when he was diagnosed with t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia – an extremely rare form of leukemia – in 1998. Already wise beyond his years, Ryan was forced to face a grown-up battle. A time when he wanted to play hockey with his friends or build rockets in shop class, he had to focus on fighting for survival. Chemotherapy, radiation, tubes, IVs, side effects, medication, medical jargon, chances of survival, transfusions, scans, and spinal taps all became the center of his young life.

 

On September 16, 1999, over a year into Ryan’s treatment and just two days before his 13th birthday, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) held the first DC Light The Night Walk. Ryan walked, alongside his parents and three sisters, carrying a white “survivor” balloon. The short walk drained nearly all of Ryan’s remaining energy…but he kept walking. He was amazed that so many people were out there fighting for him and other patients.

 

Ryan and his doctors put the disease into remission three times, but the last of these left his immune system without the ability to resist infection. Ryan lost his battle in December 1999, at the young age of 13. Ryan left behind a heartbroken, but strong, family; his parents, Mike and Prince, and his sisters, Sarah, Mary, and Regan.

 

We Keep Fighting – The Young Hearts

 

In 2000, a group of family and friends banded together to continue Ryan McLaughlin’s fight against blood cancer. Ryan’s older sister, Sarah (then 16), partnered with her friend, Julia, to create a Light The Night Team…a team they named “Young Hearts.” They gathered elementary, middle, and high school students and set a goal to raise $1,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Young Hearts were astonished when we were able to raise more than $4,000 – combined with the funds raised at the first Ryan McLaughlin Memorial Golf Tournament, our community was able to donate over $10,000 to this worthy cause.

 

The Young Hearts Light The Night team has participated in the DC Walk every year since 2000. The Team Captain role passed from sister to sister (Sarah to Mary to Regan), with some wonderful family friends stepping in from time to time (Andy, Alli, and Margaret) to take on that role – eventually leading to the creation of a leadership committee. Building on our success and creative fundraising each year, the Young Hearts have continued to support the LLS mission to find a cure for blood cancers and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

 

Our Impact in the Community – The Young Hearts Foundation & High School Club

 

After nearly a decade participating in the Light The Night Walk, the Young Hearts applied to become an IRS-recognized non-profit organization. In 2008, The Young Hearts Foundation was created as an official 501(c)3 organization with a mission to improve the lives of young people affected by long-term illness through raising funds for medical research, providing support for families affected, and raising awareness.

 

In 2009, the Young Hearts Club was created at WT Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. This club, run by an incredible group of students, is dedicated to supporting students and their families facing serious medical challenges, to bring awareness to these issues and to fund research for cures and treatments. Each year, one student leader takes on the role of Young Hearts Team Captain for the LLS Light The Night Walk, and all club members are encouraged to participate.

 

Notable Moments in the Young Hearts’ History


2000

The Young Hearts Light The Night Team is created and the first Ryan McLaughlin Memorial Golf Tournament takes place.


2005

The first Young Hearts Battle of the Bands is held to raise money for LLS.


2006

The Young Hearts are invited to sing the National Anthem on stage at the 2006 Light The Night Walk in Washington, DC.


2008

The Young Hearts present their first completely student-run, full-length musical production, Pippin.


2008

The Young Hearts are honored to receive the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Chairman Citation Award (recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of individuals who have demonstrated significant dedication and commitment to their chapter and are deserving of national recognition).


2008

The Young Hearts Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is created. The Foundation creates a broader mission to improve the lives of young people affected by long-term illness through raising funds for medical research, providing support for families affected, and raising awareness.


2009

The Young Hearts present their second completely student-run, full-length musical production, A Year with Frog and Toad.


2009

The Young Hearts Club is established at WT Woodson High School. They define themselves as a group of students dedicated to supporting students and their families facing serious medical issues, to bring awareness to these issues and to fund research for cures and treatments.


2009

Andrew Kepley, a founding member of the Young Hearts, takes on the big challenge as a candidate for the National Capital Area’s Man & Woman of the Year campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. A 10-week fund raising competition, The Man & Woman of the Year campaign challenges ~20 local area professionals to raise as much money as possible in the short time allowed. Andrew’s “2X Strong” Campaign, dedicated in honor of his brother, Patrick, led him to be named Second-Runner-Up for Man of the Year.


2009

Celebrating their 10th DC Light The Night Walk, The Young Hearts arrange an on-stage, large group hair donation to benefit Locks of Love. With the help of Alexandre de Paris Salon, 19 girls donated at least 10 inches of their hair to create wigs for children with medical hair loss.


2010

Mary McLaughlin (Ryan’s younger sister, former Young Hearts Team Captain, and now member of the Board of Directors) becomes the youngest candidate (21 years old) to ever be nominated and participate in the National Capital Area’s Man & Woman of the Year Campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The first college student to take on this challenge in the area, Mary is named First-Runner-Up for Woman of the Year and is awarded the Community Involvement Award (thanks to the incredible support of The Young Hearts and the local community!).


2010

In recognition of continued dedication to the Light The Night Walk and the mission of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, The Young Hearts are awarded the “Relentless for a Cure” award.


2011

Former Young Hearts team member, Alexa Romano, becomes the second college student to participate in the National Capital Area’s Man & Woman of the Year Campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Through her successful “Love & Memories” campaign, Alexa is named First-Runner-Up for Woman of the Year.


2012

Mike Effron, Young Hearts supporter and former classmate of Sarah McLaughlin and Andrew Kepley, runs for National Capital Area Man of the Year. Through his successful “Keep the Light” campaign, Mike is named First-Runner Up for Man of the Year and receives the Volunteerism Award.


Young Hearts Light The Night Team Captains


2000       Sarah McLaughlin & Julia Tedesco

2001       Sarah McLaughlin & Julia Tedesco

2002       Andy Beck

2003       Andy Beck & Mary McLaughlin

2004       Mary McLaughlin & Alli Foroobar

2005       Mary & Regan McLaughlin

2006       Mary & Regan McLaughlin

2007       Regan McLaughlin & Margaret Gertzog

2008       Regan McLaughlin

2009       Regan McLaughlin

2010       Claire Whitehead

2011       Claire Whitehead

2012       Laura Dunn

2013       Jessica Laiti

2014       Olivia Fanet, Noelle Gill, Anna O'Hara