Foundation Aims To Make An Impact

ST. MARYS — A new, local nonprofit organization is hoping to help make a difference in the lives of others through scholarships and funding medical research.

The Hirschfeld Foundation Inc. was founded by cousins Jamie Heitbrink and Jennifer Gaston in memory of family members who passed away.

“We are commemorating the people who have passed in our family and at the same time we are hoping to improve lives for future generations,” Gaston said. “So we are incorporating the Hirschfeld name into the organization in memory of those who have passed, but it also serves as a reminder to the living and future generations that we too are at risk and need to do what we can to make a difference for ourselves and for all the others in the world that are faced in the same challenges.”

Robert L. Hirschfeld, Heitbrink and Gaston’s grandfather passed away in 2007 from cancer, and Gaston’s son, Brayden Sands, passed away at 2-months-old from a rare blood disorder, Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis.

“I always wanted to do something in memory of my son, and my cousin, Jamie Heitbrink, after my grandfather passed, she wanted to do something to commemorate in his name,” Gaston said. “So we put our heads together and came up with this.”

The Hirschfeld Foundation Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and plans to use all money donated toward scholarships and medical research.

“Any donations will be tax exempt,” Gaston said. “Of course the family is profiting nothing. All the money will be distributed to either scholarships or to help fund research.”

Although planning for the foundation had been in the works for a while, the group held its first meeting on Feb. 27.

“It was the four-year anniversary that our grandfather had passed away,” Gaston said. “We did it on his anniversary date. My cousin and I had talked for a while previously to that, but that was when we got everyone together.”

The foundation plans to award scholarships to local graduating seniors entering the medical field. Interested students will need to have earned at least a 2.5 grade point average, fill out an application, available on the foundation’s website, and submit a transcript.

Gaston said the number and amount of scholarships will depend on how much money the foundation is able to raise.

“It just depends on how successful we are at raising money,” Gaston said. “The more the better, but it all depends on how much money we are able to raise through all the fundraisers that we are doing.”

In addition to the scholarships, the Hirschfeld Foundation plans to also donate to medical research in several different areas.

“One of the primary ones will be Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, which is what my son had passed away from,” Gaston said. “My cousin has diabetes, so she wants to do some funding for diabetes. We’ll probably fund some cancer research — our grandfather had cancer. As funds allow us, we’ll spread our wings a little bit and help in more than one area — that’s what our goal is.”

The foundation will be appearing at SummerFest at the Kids Games, a booth in the craft fair and in the parade. The Hirschfeld Foundation Inc. will also be holding a hog raffle during SummerFest for a half a hog’s meat from Winner’s Meats. Tickets for the raffle are $10 and two winners will be drawn on Aug. 13 at SummerFest.

“Any money that is made that day will be put toward a scholarship fund or toward funding research, so none of us will be profiting,” Gaston said.

Gaston said the foundation also accepts volunteers, in addition to anyone interested in joining the board of directors.

“We’re hoping to add a few more people to the Board of Directors,” she said. “We would like to have one or two more people in the future. Volunteers are appreciated at any time. We want to encourage people to help volunteer with the different fundraisers we do. We’re hoping to get more people involved.”

In the future, Gaston said she hopes the Hirschfeld Foudation is able to make peoples’ lives better.

“We’re hoping to change and better life,” she said.

“We’re hoping to help people that may be experiencing the same challenges that we have. We’re hoping to help them with some of those challenges and at the same time help fund research for people that may be experiencing some the diseases and illnesses that our family has experienced.”

Anyone interested in donating, volunteering or more information on the Hirschfeld Foundation Inc. can visit the website at or contact the foundation through e-mail at