Don’t tell Casey Baynes no. Because if she gets fired up, there’s no telling what she might do. Graduated with her AA before finishing high school. Youngest person ever to receive his or her Master’s degree from Towson University.

The spunky redhead has a passion for making the most vulnerable  — critically ill children and their families — smile. And she’s not about to let bureaucracy get in her way. 

Executive Director/Founder of Casey Cares and Mom to three, Casey Baynes likes her coffee black and tells it exactly how it is (perfectly dropped four-letter words included; let’s be honest, sometimes they are the best descriptors). Chatting over coffee at Stone Mill Bakery, she spoke fervently about her non-profit organization, the 800 current Casey Cares families, and how she balances work and her very sporty family.

While working for a wish-granting organization after college, Casey realized that many children weren’t being included because of qualification guidelines. So she set out to do something different: provide compassionate – and creative – support to those kids and their families on an ongoing basis. For many families it’s not an all-expenses-paid trip somewhere exotic that they really need (although, Casey says those trips are spectacular for families, too).  It’s finding ways to normalize the crazy, unexpected ups and downs of ongoing medical illness. New pajamas during a particularly cruddy chemo treatment. A dining gift card.  For days when kids are feeling up to it, a visit to the aquarium, the zoo, or a concert. Some families receive trips (within four hour driving distance) so they can recharge and reconnect without the hovering glow of medical personnel. 

Life. Childhood. Experiences.

“When a family is recognized by the hospital as a potential Casey Cares family, they’re given a Casey Cares kit. It has things in it like instant oatmeal, gum, a notebook… things you don’t even realize you need,” said Casey. Also in the kit is an application form. The parent fills it out (it asks for things like medical diagnosis — but also interest questions about the child.) Then the child’s doctor and social worker complete forms so that the organization has a complete picture of he or she going through. Once documentation is completed, the whole family is enrolled in Casey Cares and receives personalized benefits from the organization. 

The first thing every family gets? A pizza and a movie night. The organization takes care of finding a pizza location near the family (taking into account all dietary needs and restrictions) and gives the family a RedBox or Netflix coupon. After that, the organization will touch base with the family every 10 days or so to make see if there is anything the family needs. Or anyway they can help make life easier — and more fun.

“Moms are often the ones driving kids to medical appointments, tests,” said Casey. “So sometimes we intervene and make mom the hero. A video game a child has been looking forward to playing may just anonymously show up in their hospital room. We never say it’s from Casey Cares.”

coffee with casey baynes, casey cares foundation - (cool) progeny #coffeewith

The concept might sound simple — but something like a pizza and a movie night can be huge for a family with a child who has complex medical needs. I won’t pretend I didn’t have a little PTSD talking with Casey, reliving our 100+ days in the NICU with the Little Lion Man. It’s hard to explain how you go into perpetual reaction mode when faced with a child’s long-term hospitalization. We were hurdling all of the obstacles at the hospital, but we also had a very impressionable three-year-old at home who was missing her parents and didn’t understand what was going on. The fact that Casey Cares focuses on the entire family — including the three-year-old at home — speaks volumes to me. 

It hits home for Casey, too, who has an intuitive understanding of the realities these families face. And she wants to help more.

“We’re not reaching every child who needs us in this area,” said Casey, who is resisting pressures to take the charity national because she wants to strengthen the reach the organization has in the mid-Atlantic. “We need to.”

It’s a daunting mission, but she doesn’t seemed fazed by it. Determined? You bet. 

So how does she nurture herself and her family? Every year, Casey takes on a new sports challenge. One year she learned tennis. This year? She’s revisiting golf. Every weekend, she and and her husband grab the earliest tee time and get in 9 holes. Before her tweens and teens even wake up.

It’s important for her to connect with her kids. She’s not the kind of mom who’s going to show up at school for an impromptu lunch date with her kid (honestly — is that really a thing?), but she is the kind of mom who will take them away for a special mom-and-me trip. Swimming with the dolphins. Paris with Grandma. An overnight to catch a football game or O’s game (they are avid fans!). Weekends are spent at their various sports games or biking together. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ‘down’ time in the Baynes’ family…

“It’s about giving them an experience,” said Casey. 

Seems like a pretty good life mantra, huh?

Experience.

you can help!

Want to help spread the work of Casey Cares? Their 6th Annual Casey Cares 5K takes place on Saturday, August 1st at Camden Yards in partnership with OriolesREACH. The 3.1 mile run/walk begins and ends at Camden Yards (with an on-field finish! Imagine the selfies!) and includes post-race refreshments. Early registrants will receive a race t-shirt. Race winners in each age group will be announced in a pre-game ceremony at the game. Event sponsors include CBS Radio and MASN. Register Now/Learn More

 

Should we have coffee? Coffee with is a series on (cool) progeny that highlights moms in Baltimore doing (cool) things. Know a mom we should have coffee with? Email Heather at heather AT coolprogeny.com.