As a Taekwon-Do instructor for the last 16 years, Fran Ott has always understood the importance of giving back to his community, but not even a shoot-for-the-stars overachiever like Ott could have anticipated this turnout.
On May 5, Ott’s Taekwon-Do of Mayfair (7410 Frankford Ave.) hosted its annual fund-raiser at Chickie’s & Pete’s on Roosevelt Boulevard to benefit local families with children who are fighting cancer. A week after the event, Ott was still pondering a turnout of more than 800 people that helped raised close to $25,000 in a six-hour period (from a process which began 13 weeks ago), all of which was evenly distributed and donated to two families whose daughters, ages 6 and 4, are currently undergoing treatment for cancer.
As a local business owner who trains many children in martial arts, as well as a father of three young sons, the sense of giving back to the community’s youth has always been something near and dear to Ott. His annual fund-raiser originally started as a diabetes benefit because his cousin was diagnosed with the illness, but Ott soon shifted the cause to pediatric cancer when a family friend was hit hard by the disease.
“When you see a six-year-old going through cancer treatment…it changed my life and how I looked at my sons,” Ott said from his Bensalem home a few days after the monumental success of the fund-raiser.
The youngster Ott was referring to was the late A.J. Richter, his former pupil whose life was taken by cancer. Ott spent time with A.J. and his parents, Anthony and Matilda, during A.J.’s hospital treatments and knew that he had to go above and beyond to help families dealing with pediatric cancer in any way possible.
Last year, Ott held a fund-raiser that raised close to $20,000, an amount that was evenly distributed to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Frankie’s Fight, a local organization that helps families battling cancer all year long. (Frankie’s Fight was also involved in this year’s benefit and was awarded part of the day’s proceeds.)
This time around, Ott stepped up his game and decided that instead of raising money just for charitable organizations, the main focus would be on directly giving the funds raised to specific families currently affected by pediatric cancer. The day featured pizza-eating contests for children and adults, two local bands and a deejay and a Humvee brought by the Pennsylvania National Guard. (There was a large military presence as Victoria, one of the young girls currently undergoing treatment, has a father who is waiting to be redeployed to Afghanistan.) More than $17,000 in raffle tickets were sold, with over 35 prize baskets that included Eagles season tickets, $1,000 worth of Phillies tickets, a wheelbarrow full of spirits and Laser Tag parties for the kids and their friends.
“I’ve always been a dreamer, and I always tell my students and my kids to shoot for the stars, because even if you miss you still might hit the moon,” Ott said. “We aimed high, and I think the families were grateful. A few thousand dollars might not save your child’s life, but it can ease the burden of worrying about other things, like losing your house because the cancer medication is so expensive. That little bit of breathing room can go a long way.”
One of Ott’s biggest fans is Anthony Richter, who watched cancer tragically end his own son’s life before teaming up with Ott to help other families in need.
“The event was a great success, and the turnout was fabulous,” Richter said. “All of the money raised went to these families, who right now in their struggle live paycheck to paycheck. It was great to help, and really impressive that we were able to raise that kind of money. I’ve been there, and I know how important it is to take the stress away from your mortgage to spend as much time with your kids as possible. I thought last year was a success, but this year was over the top…the place was just mobbed.
“What it does is help keep my son’s memory alive with the event being held in his honor,” he continued. “Fran orchestrated all of this and he doesn’t ask for any money or credit or recognition. It’s his brainchild, and the idea came from his heart, which I’m touched by. His integrity and the work he does for our community…you can’t ask for a better Taekwon-Do instructor or a better man.”
Ott really does not want any credit for his development of the Pizza Bowl, which the annual fund-raiser has been dubbed due to the eating contests that it entails. If anything, he’s upset that he couldn’t do more, but the success of the event pushes him to make it even bigger the next time around.
“To see a good friend lose a young son to cancer made me realize that I needed to do more,” he said. “I see how fast my sons are growing up, and it really makes me want to be there for them. You see these families — one with a father about to be deployed to fight a war, and the other working so hard just to make ends meet — and they just don’t deserve this. I don’t do this to make myself feel good…I do it because I believe in karma and doing good things for other people.”
In the days following the event, Richter spoke of the two young girls coming together at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as they are both undergoing treatment at the same time. The two girls have become friends, and their families have leaned on each other for support in such a trying time.
“To me, that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” Richter said. “The only way to describe going through this is that it leaves a giant hole inside of you, and seeing the community come together to help make all of this happen is touching, and it makes you a little bit stronger.”
When Ott saw his close friend lose a son, he looked much harder at his own children and gained a newfound perspective on what’s really important.
“It’s hard not to worry about money, but you have to sit back and look at your life and decide what matters,” Ott said. “The event is a fun, big party and it’s nice to be at the center of it. I’m not just a business, but a business that gives back. Considering we had 800 people, our thought is it can get even bigger next year and help more families, sort of like a ripple effect. If you give people incentive to contribute, then when push comes to shove, they’ll do the right thing.” ••EndFragment