La Cañada High grad helps aid uninsured families

La Cañada High grad forms With Will's Help to aid children and their uninsured families, honor grandfather.

September 27, 2011|By Sara Cardine
  • Katherine Cullen starts non-profit for families without health insurance. (Photo courtesy of the Cullen family)
Katherine Cullen starts non-profit for families without…

When Mary Cullen’s father was battling lung cancer in 2005, she and her siblings did their best to help their mother and take care of the insurance paperwork and medical expenses. Up until William Gearing finally lost the battle, she did her best to put on a brave face and hide the worry, exhaustion and fear.

But her raw nerves and the emotional pain of seeing a loved one suffer did not go unrecognized by Cullen’s 13-year-old daughter, Katherine, who remembered what her family went through and now wants to help other families dealing with a medical crisis.

“It put a significant amount of stress on them that didn’t need to be there, because they were worrying about his cancer spreading,” the daughter recalls.

Today, Katherine Cullen is a 19-year-old Chapman University sophomore who has started the nonprofit organization With Will’s Help as a means of aiding families struggling through a child’s illness without the benefit of medical insurance. The name she chose for the group is a nod to her maternal grandfather, William Gearing, with whom she was especially close.


“My grandpa was really a loving and amazing person. He loved his grandchildren more than anything, and his family,” she says of the group’s namesake. “He was so giving, and I just think (With Will’s Help) is the perfect name.”

Starting a nonprofit for the sole purpose of paying costly medical bills on behalf of uninsured families is no small task, yet Cullen, who graduated from La Cañada High School in 2010, remains undaunted. She has filed for a 501(c)(3) status, created the website, is actively seeking potential donors and managed to get a meeting with a dean about reaching out to the school’s alumni association.

“It would be really nice to help someone else,” she says. “For now, I want to just get donations and help kids and their families pay their bills.”

As for Mary Cullen, she stills tears up at the thought of her father, who she remembers as a constant source of love and companionship for her and her siblings. Gearing walked two of her female cousins down the aisle at their weddings, ran marathons with each of his children, and made regular, month-long visits to La Cañada, where he formed a special bond with his granddaughters.

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