By Emily Williams
Andy and Jan Thrower received news on Jan. 6, 2009, that no parent wants to hear. Their son Anderson had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Their struggles seeing their son through cancer treatment, along with raising their daughter, led the Throwers to an opportunity to help other families navigate the maze of pediatric cancer. As a result, the Thrower’s began the nonprofit organization aTeam Ministries to provide support to pediatric cancer patients and families.
“Our only focus was to help make a difference – emotionally, spiritually, or financially – in the lives of other patient families who need someone to show them the love of Christ,” Thrower said.
In recognition of their contributions to the community, Leadership Vestavia Hills will honor the Throwers with its 2017 Distinguished Citizen Award on March 2 during the annual Community Leadership Awards Luncheon.
“It is certainly an honor that others who serve in a variety of roles within the community selected and felt that we were a fit for this award,” Andy Thrower said. “Anytime you are selected by your peers, it is a very humbling honor that they would select you and recognize the goals of our ministry.”
SEEING IT FIRSTHAND
The Thrower’s spent the first 10 days after their sons’ diagnosis in the hospital as their son had a port implanted and a bone marrow biopsy. During that time, they met the families of other patients in the hospital. They began to hear and see the needs of other families and realized how fortunate they were to be surrounded by their own support system of family and friends.
It was then that the Throwers took the first step toward what eventually would become the aTeam. They witnessed a family from Heflin struggling to find a hospital computer to finish school work and send family updates.
“They were unable to afford a computer and the four that were on the oncology floor were checked out by other patients on the floor, so he was unable to do some school work and, at that time, connect with families through Caringbridge. Now most everyone uses Facebook,” Thrower said.
Through a partnership with Legacy Community Credit Union and Regions Bank, the Throwers coordinated the purchase of 18 computers for the oncology rooms and six for the bone marrow transplant rooms at Children’s.
“This was the beginning of aTeam before we realized it and even thought about forming a non-profit,” he said.
Thrower said the couple created aTeam in part because they discovered the basic struggles a cancer patient’s family faces.
“We are not able to talk about every type of cancer, but we had been in the journey and would run into children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles every time we went to the hospital for treatment,” he said. “So we knew most of what they were going through and it meant a lot to us to have other people ahead of us in the journey to help us along with what Anderson was facing and going through.”
The Throwers said they were fortunate to live only 15 minutes away from Children’s ER and doctors.
“Most of the programs of aTeam were a result of getting to know and hear the needs of patient families from all over Alabama,” he said.
The benefit of being so close to Children’s is the ability to reach patient families from across the state and create programming to support their needs.
“We saw a need in helping patient families who had a child pass away by providing financial support for funeral expenses or headstone expenses. Therefore, we moved some financial resources in one program to create room for these new needs,” Thrower said.
To create more family memories, aTeam coordinates Day at the Game outings to bring separated parents and their children together.
“Going to a game allows them to go together with children who may have been neglected of time because of being and doing so much with their sick child,” he said.
The Throwers also incorporated a housing and financial assistance program into their ministry to provide a home away from home for patient families who live far from Children’s.
Through their ministry, the Throwers said they have learned that, regardless of the support they provide patient families, the business side of the ministry is always in full swing.
“We dislike referring to aTeam as a business because we are ministry-minded, but without the accounting, marketing, website, and other areas running effectively, we would not have a ministry that could give grants of $25,000 per year for financial assistance to patient families or effectively manage two apartments in Homewood for patient families to stay in throughout the year,” Thrower said.
The Throwers had to plan events, coordinate donations and advertise their ministry work. Those business-oriented aspects of running a nonprofit organization came as a surprise to the Throwers. To make matters more complicated, Anderson was still going through treatments for almost the first three years of the Thrower’s journey to establish aTeam.
“So, we were balancing treatment and getting aTeam off the ground,” Andy said.
“We did not officially become a non-profit until December 2009 and I did not start full time with aTeam until March 2011.”
In their respective careers before aTeam – Andy in telecommunications and Jan with an elementary education background – neither of the Throwers expected their future careers would lead them to where they are today.
“I think neither of us envisioned running a non-profit,” Thrower said. “I had worked as a training manager for T-Mobile for eight and a half years and Corr Wireless/CSpire for four and a half years before moving full time to aTeam. Jan had taught school for six years prior to our kids being born. So, we truly started aTeam Ministries from the ground up with virtually no experience in the non-profit world.”
But now the Throwers have developed a non-profit that provides support to cancer patient families through programming geared to support the financial, emotional and spiritual needs of pediatric cancer patient families.
As the Throwers looked forward to the community awards banquet, they reflected on just what makes a leader.
“I don’t think my idea of a leader has changed. I think my platform to show leadership has changed,” Thrower said. “I like the Michael Jordan quote that we all earn our leadership everyday.”
Instead of pursuing every action with a mission to lead, the Throwers let their actions lead others to support their ministry.
“I look at the courage we took, even though God was directing our path, to start aTeam at a critical time in Anderson’s pediatric cancer journey,” Thrower said.” We are so thankful we took that step and hopefully others will see that being a leader requires courage but good things can come from it when it is the right thing to do.”
An important part to leading a non-profit successfully, in Thrower’s opinion, is having humility in service and knowing who is being served and their state of emotion.
Thrower noted that aTeam follows Fuchan Yuan’s three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.
The family hopes that the recognition Leadership Vestavia Hills is giving them will help spread the word of aTeam.
“aTeam is still a young organization and there are many more ways God is going to use the ministry to help existing and new patient families in the future,” Thrower said.
Each year, 150 Alabama children are diagnosed with some form of pediatric cancer, according to aTeam’s data.
“Our family loves living in Vestavia and consider it a blessing to have the opportunity to send our kids to the Vestavia schools, attend Shades Mountain Baptist Church and play sports through the parks and rec department all within this community,” Thrower said.
Leadership Vestavia Hills’ annual Community Leadership Awards Luncheon will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; tickets are $50.
For more information, visit leadershipvestaviahills.com.