Mary Jo Wegenke recently did a tabling event to promote her nonprofit, the You’ve Got This Project. As people passed her booth, she said multiple people came up to her and expressed gratitude for the treatment starter packs.
“We love what we’re doing, but sad that there’s a need for it.”
This is the impact her organization, the You’ve Got This Project, is making by helping people in East Lansing and other nearby communities.
The You’ve Got This Project was started to give hope to adults with cancer and to provide them with treatment starter packs of products as they undergo treatment. Mary Jo Wegenke, who had breast cancer and is now almost five years cancer-free, founded the You’ve Got This Project to tell people undergoing chemotherapy: you’ve got this.
“I knew I wanted to have a positive connotation because when you hear that word cancer when you are diagnosed with it, like it’s a very defining moment, or it was for me,” Wegenke said. “It’s all about giving people hope and letting them know we’re behind you and you’re not alone. So it just struck me as you’ve got this, we just wanted people to know they’re not alone in that and it’s something positive.”
Wegenke said she wanted to “pay it forward” to others because she was fortunate in her experience and wants others to have the products and resources they need.
She began distributing packs in 2018. The You’ve Got This Project became an official nonprofit two years later in November 2020.
During her treatment, Wegenke experienced many side effects and so doctors recommended various products. She spent time and resources determining what products would remedy the side effects she was experiencing, and she was left with a medicine cabinet of products.
The idea for the organization and treatment starter packs it distributes came to fruition after a neighbor was diagnosed with cancer. As Wegenke was completing her treatment, she thought this neighbor could benefit from products that Wegenke found helpful in her journey.
“So we put together our first treatment starter pack,” Wegenke said. “So it’s a very grassroots effort, that’s how it started. And it just kind of mushroomed from there, and it led to me hearing about another individual that was needing the treatment starter process.”
Wegenke said a big turning point was when her husband, who was the principal of Haslett High School, shared the idea with his students. The National Honor Society chapter there created a fundraiser. Following the fundraiser and seeing the amount of people wanting to donate, Wegenke founded the nonprofit.
“Everybody’s journey is different, but if we can have them all uplifted and ready to begin that treatment with those over-the-counter care items – That’s our goal to help people lead into treatment to provide relief and hope,” Wegenke said.
The treatment starter packs are the crux of what the organization does. The You’ve Got This Project has given out 262 starter packs. Although it primarily operates in the greater Lansing area, packs have been sent out to 13 states. About 10 packs a month go to the Breslin Cancer Center, a big partner for the nonprofit.
The idea to work with the Breslin Cancer Center was given to Wegenke from one of her surgeons after she shared her story with him.
Wegenke got connected with Ryan Gennette, who teaches classes for people preparing for chemotherapy at the Center. Gennette serves as the chief medical advisor for the nonprofit, and he ensures the products in the packs are relevant and useful.
A total of about 135 packs have been donated to the Breslin, Wegenke said. The other kit requests come through the website, which was launched in September. Requests within 20 miles can be dropped off. Otherwise they are personally shipped.
Wegenke said people will request packs for friends, but some will requests will be for themselves, which she said is powerful.
There are two other members the You’ve Got This Project’s board. Julie Irwin serves as the chief financial officer, and she really encouraged Wegenke to formally organize the nonprofit. The other member, Heidi Gascon, is the digital media and design officer, and her family has also been impacted by cancer.
Wegenke said she sought to be respectful of all people’s journeys and experiences with cancer. That is how she formed the organization’s motto: “Three Hearts. Three Stories.” The first heart represents the healing process. The second represents those that have survived, or, as she says thrived. The final heart represents those who are remembered.
The organization is entirely funded by donations, and while Covid-19 did not slow their expansion efforts, it did decrease fundraising. Individual donations are a major source of support. Wegenke also said the community plays a big role, and its support through holding events is “overwhelming.”
As for the future, she is focused on growing their distribution partnerships with patient and oncology centers. Wegenke said increasing fundraising is also a goal.
One of Wegenke’s favorite memories since founding the project goes back to that first neighbor she helped.
Wegenke remembers her neighbor realizing he needed a smaller tooth brush for his sore gums and then remembering he did have one thanks to the pack Wegenke provided him.
“At nine o’clock at night I realized I had that oh my gosh,” he said, “that was amazing.”
Now, over 250 people later, the project keeps helping people like her neighbor.