Purdue HDFS graduate creates hope from hardships with cancer nonprofit

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Tricia Rausch
Tricia Rausch, founder of Tricia’s Hope and Purdue HHS alumna. Photo provided.

In 2008, Purdue University Department of Human Development and Family Studies alumna Tricia Rausch found a lump under her skin during a self-examination. At 31 years old, cancer seemed unfathomable, but a trip to the doctor confirmed it was an aggressive stage-two breast cancer.

“Everyone knows someone that’s been touched by cancer,” Rausch said. “At the time of my diagnosis, it seemed like you always knew that story of that young mom that was too young to be facing chemo, and then all of a sudden, we were in the middle of it and didn’t really know what to do or how to handle it.”

Rausch had to undergo chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and hormone therapy for 10 years.

At the time of her diagnosis, she and her husband had two young children at home, and on top of that, the Rausch family experienced job and health insurance loss as they faced the economic hardships of the Great Recession. As she became sicker from the chemo treatments, Rausch quickly realized that she needed help.  

“Cancer itself rocks your world in so many ways,” Rausch explained. “You face your mortality in a way that most of us haven’t had to before. You also have to swallow your pride and really have to accept help, and that’s so hard.”

From helping care for her children to offering financial assistance, Rausch experienced an outpour of support and love from family, friends and the community. 

“Still 12 years later, and I’ll just get too emotional,” Rausch said. “I think back about everything that was done for us to get us through that time — months of childcare and anonymous envelopes of grocery cards and meals and cleaning our home — and there’s no way you can really say thank you.”

As she got well, Rausch began fundraising for some of the charities that helped her during her time with cancer in order to pay forward some of the help that was given to her, and she had a lot of success with it.

“It got the point where I just started talking it out with friends, brainstorming the idea that if I’m able to raise a certain amount of money every year, is this something that maybe I should consider doing so that we can really have an impact on our local community?” Rausch said.

In 2013, Rausch founded her official nonprofit, Tricia’s Hope, to offer grants and support to those in the community who are struggling with cancer. The nonprofit offers roughly 20 grants each year, and Rausch interviews each applicant to make sure the assistance they receive is personalized to help relieve the stress they’re feeling in some way.

Rausch prides herself on having very little overhead in her volunteer-based nonprofit. While administrative costs are low, funding for grants is always needed. After starting Tricia’s Hope, Rausch sat down with her board of directors to brainstorm how to fundraise in a way that really captured what the nonprofit organization is all about. They came up with the Survival Ball, an annual event to bring cancer survivors, their families and donors together to celebrate the hardships they’ve overcome.

“We wanted to have a fundraiser that was unique in that it was a real celebration,” Rausch said. “It’s really just about having fun and being together and people from all different walks of life — everyone — coming together and celebrating that every single day is a gift.”

Attendees of the 2019 Survivor Ball pose for a photo. Photo provided.
Attendees of the 2019 Survival Ball pose for a photo. Photo provided.

COVID-19 put a halt on the 2020 Survival Ball, but that didn’t stop Tricia’s Hope from offering grants during the pandemic. Rausch pulled together online fundraising efforts to keep her mission going, even though everyone couldn’t gather together like usual. This summer, as more people get vaccinated, Rausch said she hopes things will be different. She’s currently working with the staff of Lafayette Theater and Endless Summer Band to coordinate a safe and socially distanced 2021 Survival Ball.

Rausch has seen her Purdue education influence her career in many ways. Even outside of her Early Childhood Education and Exceptional Needs major, Rausch said the general education she received in the College of Health and Human Sciences helped her connect with individuals from all different backgrounds and prepared her with the management and event-planning skills she never imagined she would use to run a nonprofit.

“I would have never in a million years thought that I would be operating a 501(c)(3), so this is definitely not something that I anticipated, but I certainly don’t think I would have been prepared without Purdue,” Rausch said.

For people looking to get involved with Tricia’s Hope, the nonprofit is always looking for new advocates to share information about the organization through its Facebook and Instagram accounts. Rausch said Tricia’s Hope is currently working on adding survivor stories from previous grant recipients to its website and social platforms to offer resources to others who are going through similar experiences.

Rausch said it’s amazing to see how far Tricia’s Hope has come, from having roughly 100 people she already knew attend the first Survival Ball to the way it has extended out into the community and allowed her to connect with so many new people. “I’m so honored to be in this position and to be trusted with the donations that we receive,” Rausch said. “Reflecting on the people I have met, stories that have been shared with me, families that have welcomed me into precious moments of their lives, these are privileges — humbling, honoring and sometimes heavy — but very filled with love.”