HDF student Ali Hornung dedicated to easing scourge of childhood cancer

Ali Hornung

Even while triple majoring at URI, Hornung founded and runs Glimmer of Hope Foundation

Few college students would embrace the demands required of a triple-major, especially one with three very diverse majors in three different colleges. How many would embrace those demands while simultaneously running an international foundation dedicated to advocating for and easing the suffering of childhood cancer patients?

Human Development and Family Sciences student Ali Hornung does just that, managing to balance her HDF studies in counseling with those in Global Business Management and German. But her true passion lies with students much younger than her college peers. Since she was 12 years old, Hornung has been an advocate for childhood cancer fighters and survivors. She has turned that passion into a full-time endeavor, starting the Glimmer of Hope Foundation.

Donate to the Glimmer of Hope Foundation here

“It’s a lot of dedication and reminding myself every day not only why I’m doing this, but also what I have to do to not become complacent and keep running this foundation,” Hornung said. “Glimmer of Hope was started during the pandemic, so I had a lot of time on my hands. For a while, I had a lot of free time to run it. This is the first time I’ve had to run it while also doing school full-time. I’ve asked my board members to do more in their positions. They and the junior board have been a huge help. Just having people on my team has been huge.”

Ali Hornung with Ella, the inspiration behind Hornung’s Glimmer of Hope Foundation.

The inspiration to dedicate herself to helping relieve the scourge of childhood cancer began with a young friend named Ella, who Hornung met in grade school in North Kingstown when Ella was in Kindergarten. The young girl Hornung remembered from the school playground was diagnosed with leukemia at 11 years old. Already experienced in raising funds for childhood cancer patients after a classmate of her own had been diagnosed four years previously, Hornung knew she had to do something for the girl she considered her little sister.

“That kind of sparked my passion for it. I was already passionate about childhood cancer and I knew that was my calling in life, but her story made it that much more important to me,” Hornung said, noting she was already planning fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as part of her campaign for the foundation’s student of the year. “I was planning a fashion show called ‘Runway for a Cure’ when I happened to run into Ella and her dad in a local store. I asked her to be in my fashion show. We went dress shopping together, and that sort of started our bond.”

Ella fought the disease through multiple rounds of chemotherapy over two and a half years. finally achieving remission in June 2018. Tragically, remission lasted just 10 months, and Ella passed away at age 14 in 2019.

“It is very rare to meet someone you feel this undeniable connection to, even though we were 5 years apart,” Hornung said. “I became sort of a big sister to her and started going with her to her appointments when she got chemo, physical therapy. When she relapsed, I went to the hospital as many days as I could, at least three of four days a week, and stay there all day. I would not change that for the world because every second I got with her was irreplaceable. There’s no word to describe that. She is the most amazing person I’ve ever met in my life. After she passed, I knew I had to do something.”

She started around the time the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020. She began making masks to donate to kids with cancer, sewing thousands of masks by herself, raising $10,000 for various children’s cancer charities like Talia’s Legacy and the Children’s Miracle Network. But she wanted to do more, especially for young girls like Ella who had inspired her so much.

“I wanted to start a non-profit and went to Ella’s parents to talk about ways to continue her legacy. They told me about how she had written to American Girl dolls to ask about a bald doll; she wanted every girl to receive the bald doll,” Hornung said. “They got her a bald doll at the time and she named it Hope. So that’s what we ran with — Glimmer of hope. It has taken off from there. It was our 1-year anniversary in July, and we’ve sent 250 dolls to girls with cancer.”

Ali Hornung leads a Princess Party.

The dolls cost $135 each. The foundation buys every doll and ships them around the country, including a card about Ella, outfits for the doll, cancer support resources for the family, and wellness packages, including everything from toys to toiletries. Hornung’s goal is to donate 1,000 dolls in the next five years, and she has expanded the foundation’s offerings to include “Princess Parties” and photo shoots for children suffering from the disease. She is scheduled to travel to Arizona this fall for a party there, and aims to expand the program to every state in the country, partnering with other non-profits across the country, like Amanda Hope Rainbow Angels in Arizona.  

“You want to impact as many people as possible, but giving even one girl a doll can change their life,” Hornung said. “They forget about cancer for that five minutes, and that’s all that matters to me. It’s about how can you change someone’s life, even for a short amount of time.”

Unfortunately, the reality is not all kids survive, even with the outpouring of support from organizations like Glimmer of Hope. That support doesn’t end when a child passes, however. Hornung aims to keep in contact with families of the children in the program, and she has partnered with a local artist, who had sent her an unsolicited painting of Ella based on an Instagram photo around the time she died.

“I just thought that was an amazing gift, so I partnered with that artist and now every time a child who we’ve donated to passes away, we send the family a painting of their child,” Hornung said. “I really wanted to find a way to support the bereaved families, and I thought that is a good way to honor the child’s memory.”

Hornung has continued to expand the foundation, which now boasts a 7-member board of directors and a 14-member junior board, many of whom are Ella’s friends. The junior board runs its own fundraising events, including a recent T-shirt sale, a charity carnival, and even a virtual Cabaret, with all the performers being cancer survivors or fighters. The foundation has been featured on national cable TV channels, increasing its exposure, and Hornung herself was recently named a Myra Kraft Community MVP by the New England Patriots. The Kraft family donated $10,000, along with 10 tickets to a recent Patriots game. Hornung is also a repeat contestant in the Miss RI pageant, having placed second runner-up and fourth runner-up, further increasing exposure to her work and foundation.

The Foundation primarily relies on donations to continue its mission. Donors who give the $135 for the full price of a doll become a doll sponsor, which includes a photo of the child who receives the doll thanking their sponsor. Smaller donations are also needed to cover the cost of shipping, doll clothes and accessories. Donations can be made directly at Glimmerofhopefoundation.org, or through the foundation’s wish list at Amazon.com.

Hornung plans to continue running the foundation. She said her education in counseling through HDF, combined with her two other majors — and possibly an upcoming law school education — will help her should she decide to make the foundation a full-time career.

“My business major has really helped me with the non-profit, while German helps because we’re an international non-profit,” Hornung said. “The HDF component is like the icing on the cake because I get to understand the different emotions of these families and delve into what they’re going through. Because of my counseling classes in HDF, I feel like I’m able to connect with them more.”

Hornung is also working on connecting with Congress, having lobbied several times in Washington, D.C., for more funding for childhood cancer. She plans to continue that work as well, pushing for greater research and funding to fight the terrible disease.

“The biggest part for me is spreading Ella’s memory and legacy, and also spreading childhood cancer awareness. It’s really difficult for people to talk about, so often they don’t,” Hornung said. “Childhood cancer only receives 4 percent of federal cancer finding. That’s why we keep going down there lobbying and we keep advocating, because I think that as more people see it, they know you don’t have to be personally affected to care about something.”

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