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Golfing for Good: Raising Tuition Money for Cancer Patients

Reinventing the Outdoors contest: The financial toll of fighting cancer puts college out of reach for many survivors. CFC is helping to change that.

UPDATED! Launched on Monday April 4, GOOD and the 2011 Ford Explorer will be devoting six weeks to the Reinventing the Outdoors Contest, which showcases amazing organizations like this one that are redefining the way we live, work, and play outside. Check in every day for a new story about the people, celebrities, and programs behind each organization. Help your favorite group win the $50,000 grand prize by voting for them starting Monday, May 16 through Friday, May 20.

Craig Pollard with fellow cancer survivor Christine Pechera

Every August, hundreds of people spend a day in the bright Southern California sunshine to cheer on fellow golfers hitting the ball for a good cause. Actor and comedian Will Ferrell lights up the greens with his golfing talent and inimitable sense of humor as host of the event. But this isn’t just any golfing tournament; every dollar that’s donated is given as college scholarships to cancer survivors and amputees through the organization Cancer for College (CFC). It’s golf with a conscience, though as founder Craig Pollard says, “For cancer patients, everything is life and death. So we try to make everything as fun as possible while also making a difference.”

Pollard knows firsthand. When he was 19 years old and a student at USC, he was battling for his life against a second bout of cancer. The hope of going back to school to join his friends and continue his education was a lifeline and helped motivate him to keep fighting. Lying in his hospital bed, Pollard promised himself that if he got out of the hospital alive, he would find a way to give back to others. Three months later and back in school, he wrote a business plan for a nonprofit that would help other kids with cancer go to college, and CFC was started in 1993. He had learned when talking with parents of cancer patients that the financial costs take an incredible toll on families since many medical procedures and medications aren't covered by insurance. The simple focus on just getting well forces everything—especially big picture plans like attending college—far into the background and out of the reach for many.

For its first ten years, CFC was a scrappy nonprofit, where Pollard, his wife Stacy, and six dedicated friends pulled together a golf tournament and gave every penny to scholarships. Then, Pollard’s USC frat buddy and CFC supporter from the start, Will Ferrell, became famous and the organization took off with his help. CFC was originally entirely volunteer-run and able to award only 5-10 scholarships a year; it now employees two staff members and awards around 90 scholarships annually of $1,000 to $4,000 to kids heading to schools such as Stanford, Harvard, UC Berkeley, and Texas A&M. Following Pollard’s own foot amputations in 2006, the scholarships was extended to include amputees. Since the organization’s creation, over 800 scholarships have now been given totaling over $1 million.

Will Ferrell taking a swing for CFC

Funding for CFC and its scholarship program hinges on a series of six events, at the center of which are three golf tournaments. A great baseball player (he had Major League dreams before first getting cancer at age 15) and golf aficionado, Pollard decided that golf was the perfect way to enjoy time outside and raise money. In addition to the Southern California event (which this year will include a comedy night for which Ferrell has lined up some famous friends), there’s a golf event at Pebble Beach and a new one in Texas. There’s also a wine tasting event in Seattle, a pub crawl in San Diego, and a Casino Night in North Carolina.

It’s all to support these kids who have succeeded against all odds in their fight against cancer and amputations. “One scholarship winner had become disabled and deformed by his chemo treatments and cancer,” says Pollard. “Now, he’s a student at Georgetown, studying abroad in China, and the most dynamic public speaker I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible for a kid who once didn’t even want to leave the house.”

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