A Conversation with Brigid Collins

Jim Stewart and Brigid Collins.

The longtime educator and co-founder of Katy’s Courage, a nonprofit founded after the death of her daughter, Katy Collins Stewart, talks about the growth of organization and its mission to support families and children on the East End.

This Saturday is the sixth annual Love Bites — a culinary-based fundraiser for your nonprofit, Katy’s Courage. Katy’s Courage raises funds for pediatric cancer research, offers scholarships to local students and through Katy’s Kids @ CMEE, offers children and families facing the death of a loved one a supportive environment. Since the founding of the nonprofit, almost a decade ago, what have been some of its greatest accomplishments, in your view?

We are proud to say that in Katy’s memory, many thousands of dollars have been contributed to pediatric cancer research, and at this point Katy’s Courage has funded over $100,000 in support of our local students through ongoing scholarships, and we have created programming that is helping grieving families who are part of our community. These areas are near and dear to our hearts, and we feel good that Katy’s memory is what inspires them and also that the amazing help of our East End community is what makes it all possible.

Love Bites will bring together over 20 caterers and chefs at The Muses in Southampton for a night of food and fun. One area it benefits is Katy’s Kids @CMEE Center for Grieving Children and Adolescents. Can you tell us a little bit about the Center and what its goals are?

Katy’s Kids provides a safe and healing environment for children, teens and their families as they grieve the death of a parent, sibling, close family member or friend. It allows them a chance to share their experiences. We utilize creative expression, play and communication as tools to foster well-being. Through peer support, educational materials, and training of the individuals affiliated with our organization, we are able to help with the grieving process. Among our volunteers are a number of certified counselors. We serve ages 3 through 18. We never charge families for our services. Our goal is to expand. We recently received a grant which will enable us to do just that. We are in the process of bringing on a staff member to help grow and coordinate our services, as well as to improve outreach and create even more programming.

How has the Center grown since its founding? Do you hope to expand at any point in the near future?

Katy’s Kids started when we saw the need for support for grieving children who live on the East End. Because it is so rural where we live, there are often distances families need to travel in order to gain much needed services. At this point, we have well achieved our goal of putting that support in place. We started from scratch, and since our inception, have partnered with CMEE, and we are now consistently helping grieving families on a regular basis. We plan to continue to provide that support, and overtime, will certainly reach more and more children and families wanting help. There is a definite need, and we continue to work on addressing it.

This year’s event honors “The Culinary Community of the Hamptons.” What was the reason for honoring this group of community members?

First, it’s important to say that they event would not exist without its founder, Linda Shapiro, and the event coordinator, Sag Harbor’s own Chef Peter Ambrose.  They both have given very generously a great deal of their time and talent to our organization. So many in the culinary community come to our aid so selflessly with this event, and they do so by volunteering their time and energy year after year. It only makes sense that the event honors those who truly make it happen. We are delighted to acknowledge their tremendous efforts.

Katy died of hepatoblastoma at the age of 12 in 2010. In the last nine years, have there been advancements in pediatric cancer treatments or research that give you hope for other children facing these illnesses?

I am so happy to report that yes, there are important advances that are taking place every day when it comes to research and options for children facing cancer.  The future is very bright. Targeted therapies have recently received FDA approval specifically to treat forms of pediatric cancer.  These kinds of treatments are less harsh; they build up the immune system rather than destroy it, and they are very, very hopeful. Our organization will continue to contribute to pediatric cancer research as long as it takes to be sure it is one day wiped out entirely. I truly believe that day is on the horizon.

Katy was known in Sag Harbor — and beyond — as a child with the ability to bring people together. It seems like she continues to have that ability, drawing community members together annually for several events on the South Fork. When you were starting out, did you and your husband, Jim, understand how much of an impact she had on her community and how lasting her memory would be for those outside of her family and close friends?

We always knew Katy to be an incredibly loving child. What we have learned from her is that love has so much power to bring goodness to the world.  That’s her legacy.  It’s simple, but at the same time, very, very important and profound. Love can indeed transform our world, in small simple ways, every single day.