What do you do when an 8-year-old boy with a dream to lift the spirits of kids with cancer comes knocking at your door?
At V&E, you say: “How can I help?”
David Lauritzen, the son of V&E Associate Director of Facilities and Real Estate Aaron Lauritzen, was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 18 months old. When David was six — after he had endured treatment and was in remission — his mom, Samantha, asked him what he’d like to do to mark Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
“He thought about it for a few minutes and said, ‘I want to make kids with cancer smile. I want to buy toys for kids with cancer.'”
“He thought about it for a few minutes and said, ‘I want to make kids with cancer smile. I want to buy toys for kids with cancer,’” Aaron said.
Out of this simple idea, David’s Toy Project was born.
David started making nightly phone calls to friends and family and collected coins in a jar. Over time checks started rolling in. As of December of 2018, David’s Toy Project had collected $14,500 and distributed 4,579 toys to patients at Texas Children’s Hospital where David received his treatment.
As David’s initiative gained steam, Aaron and Samantha decided to take it to the next level. But in order to do so, they would need to turn David’s Toy Project into a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. While local companies, such as Ron Hoover RV & Marine, and Walmart, were already supporting David’s Toy Project, becoming a nonprofit could help attract larger sums.
V&E Steps Up
In the fall of last year Aaron turned to V&E Chief Talent Officer Patty Harris to ask whether the firm would agree to do the legal work on a pro bono basis. In short order Harris informed Aaron that V&E Chairman Mark Kelly and Managing Partner Scott Wulfe had signed off on his request and V&E tax partner George Gerachis had agreed to supervise the project.
Gerachis enlisted a V&E tax associate to handle submitting a tax-exempt application to the IRS to form a 501(c)(3) organization. That associate, in turn, asked Analiza Rodriguez, an associate in the firm’s Mergers & Acquisitions and Capital Markets practice, to manage the process of forming a nonprofit corporation. Gerachis, as well V&E tax partner Glen Rosenbaum, provided guidance along the way.
“Even with something like David’s Toy Project, which is a relatively small income-making organization, there’s a lot to worry about,” Ellsworth said. “When you’re dealing with the IRS, you don’t want to give anyone any reason to question you. We tried to really dig into all of the details and ask all of the questions upfront to make sure that we knew everything we needed to know and that there weren’t any surprises ahead of us.”
The V&E legal team worked closely with Aaron to ensure that the decisions they made were in keeping with his and Samantha’s goals.
“It was always: ‘This is what we recommend. What do you want to do?’” Aaron said. “I gained an appreciation for the work involved in doing this correctly.”
A Christmas Eve Gift
Just before Christmas the Lauritzens and David’s lawyers got some good news. David’s Toy Project had received its 501(c)(3) designation.
Looking back, Ellsworth and Rodriguez said they were happy for the opportunity to get to know and help their colleague Aaron.
“I’m inspired by the lengths he’s willing to go to make his son’s dreams come true,” Rodriguez said. “I’m grateful I could help.”
For Ellsworth, who has a daughter with medical issues and has spent time with her in children’s hospitals, Aaron’s devotion struck a personal chord. “When your child is sick, their medical needs are always present,” he said. “Aaron has not only accepted that, he’s turned it into something positive.”
Feeling the Love
Today, the Lauritzens have much to celebrate. David’s Toy Project is now officially a nonprofit corporation. More importantly, in March of 2018, David was pronounced cancer free.
Samantha noted that the legal work V&E did for David’s Toy Project marked the latest step in the firm’s longstanding support of her family. When David was diagnosed with cancer, she recalled, Aaron had to take a leave of absence on very short notice and was able to do so without having to worry about his job security.
“From that point on, we’ve received nothing but blessings and support from V&E, from Aaron’s boss, and from his co-workers,” Samantha said. “Now, it seems like they’re just part of the family.”
To learn more about David’s Toy Project and to make a donation, click here.