13Forever donating $25K to local organizations in fight against pediatric cancer

Posted at 9:01 AM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 12:22:57-05

(WXYZ) — A local nonprofit founded by a Macomb County family who lost their 13-year-old son to an aggressive brain tumor is donating $25,000 to Michigan organizations in the fight to end pediatric cancer. 

On March 7, which would have marked the 22nd birthday for their son, Justin Townsend, 13Forever hosted a gathering at Brown Iron Brewhouse in Royal Oak with family, friends and supporters to present several local organizations with the funds raised over the past year. 

13Forever: After losing son to brain cancer, Michigan family starts nonprofit to help find cure

“It was a way to celebrate his birthday and give away the money collected by 13Forever,” said Roy Townsend, Justin's father and one of the founders of 13Forever. “We may do it every year.” 

Two weeks into junior high, Justin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer: glioblastoma-multiforme. Within a year, Justin was gone. He passed away in August of 2014.

“Hell, it’s been 8 years and it still feels like yesterday,” said Roy. “I made a promise to Justin … when your child asks, ‘am I going to die?’ you gotta say, ‘you know what, we're going to do everything we can so that doesn't happen.’ Just because he has passed, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.”

And this week, in Justin’s honor, Corewell Health, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan are among the local organizations benefiting from the fundraising of the Townsend family through 13Forever.

“We come at this fundraising from a different perspective … We lived what a lot of these people are going through,” said Roy. 

Of the $25,000, Corewell Health's hospital in Royal Oak (formerly Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak), was presented with $10,000 — with most of the money aimed at being distributed to services specific to pediatric departments. 

Dr. Kate Gowans, head of pediatric hematology and oncology at Corewell Health East, was there to receive the check along with other members of the Corewell Health team. The Townsends spoke of Dr. Gowans’ compassion when Justin was sick. 

“We were all sitting on the floor of the hallway just being discouraged and our spirits were broken — Dr. Gowans came over and she sat on the floor with us … and she reassured us that the battle wasn’t over," said Roy. “She was a very good comfort to us.”

Dr. Gowans said the work of 13Forever will have a profound impact on children and families they care for in Southeast Michigan. 

“Our hearts break for our families whenever we lose a patient. In the wake of such grief, we are grateful for the generosity of the Townsend family and 13Forever, and admire what they are doing to keep Justin’s memory alive and to support local families who are facing a cancer journey,” said Dr. Gowans in a statement.

A representative from the Ronald McDonald House was at the event to receive a donation from 13Forever to help with the food pantry services they provide to families. In total, $6,000 is going toward funding the food pantry for the whole year.

13Forever is also helping Children’s Hospital of Michigan fund special giveaways and events.

Justin’s sister, Jackie, ended up becoming a child life specialist at Children's Hospital of Michigan to help children who are facing illnesses and their families. 

Roy said she told him that Children’s Hospital of Michigan gets more funding around the major holidays, but that they wanted to make the patients feel special all year round. 

“We want to help the kids there celebrate the smaller holidays and their birthdays,” said Roy. 

13Forever put together giveaway bags for the patients for Valentine’s Day and they’re sponsoring a special St. Patrick’s Day party. 

He said the next goal for the nonprofit is creating a scholarship to help students going through cancer treatments. 

“We want to keep expanding 13Forever so we can help satisfy everyone’s needs with it comes to beating cancer,” said Roy.

He says he hopes 13Forever can fund more research in the quest to find a cure, fueled by that promise to Justin more than eight years ago.

To learn more about 13Forever or make a donation, click here