This story appeared in the August 2020 edition of Inside Ivy, a magazine for the residents of neighborhoods along the Ivy Road corridor of Charlottesville, VA. For easy reading, the text of the article is also included at the bottom.
After over 25 years as residents of Great Falls, VA, Cindy Hargroves and her husband, Brad, moved to Ednam Forest in April 2018 for retirement from their systems engineering careers. They left behind many friends and community activities, including years of volunteering for church, Girl Scouts and their homeowner’s association and greater neighborhood.
As part of settling in their new home in Charlottesville, Cindy and Brad became active on the board of the homeowner’s association, joined a church, worked out at the Sports Club at Boar’s Head, and started attending UVA sporting and cultural events. Cindy, however, was still looking for a place or mission to fill her love of volunteering.
Cindy also ran a side-business with a Great Falls neighbor, Meg Smith. Fitness Bitsy was started on a whim in 2014, after a chance discussion of ways to dress up the ugly black Fitbit bands. Meg designed a few prototypes, which sold on Etsy the day they were listed, and within a month Meg and Cindy were running a business, eventually selling over 10,000 custom-made bracelets. During the early years of the business, Meg was caring for her youngest son, Gavin, who was in and out of the hospital with a rare form of an immune deficiency disease. Meg learned that robes and sweaters don’t work well with IV and PICC lines, and she started making colorful fleece ponchos for her son when he was six years old. Meg suggested they also start making ponchos for other children, knowing that there was a great need for them, but with a time-consuming business, Cindy working and Meg caring for Gavin, it didn’t seem possible to start a new venture. Sadly, Gavin died of complications from a liver transplant just before his 13th birthday.
It was after Cindy’s move to Charlottesville that the idea of making and giving away the ponchos was the way to honor Gavin and reach as many children as possible. With a mission defined, Cindy and Meg were ready to launch Cape Ivy, an IRS 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports hospitalized children and their families.
Cindy was taking care of the business set up and IRS applications while Meg was sewing ponchos, but they knew that to make a greater impact, they would also need to manufacture ponchos. Using the funds from Fitness Bitsy, Meg and Cindy placed their 1st order for 300 ponchos. As soon as they arrived, Meg and Cindy started distributing the ponchos to Child Life Specialists at local hospitals: Johns Hopkins, INOVA Fairfax, UVA Children’s and Children’s National. There was an immediate positive response from the staff and the families of children who received the ponchos. With additional orders from their manufacturer, Meg and Cindy took three road trips: first to SC, NC, and GA, followed by a trip to KY, OH, PA, WV, and finally heading north to MD, PA, NJ and DE. In March, just before the pandemic was declared, they visited three VA locations. In addition to children’s hospitals, the trips also included donations to Ronald McDonald Houses and other family-stay houses, as the chronically ill children they aim to reach often have family staying in these near-by houses. By the time the stay-at-home orders were announced, Meg and Cindy had traveled over 3000 miles and donated over 800 ponchos in nine months.
The pandemic posed only a temporary interruption of donations to hospitals. With Meg’s creativity (she is a UVA graduate with a minor in Fine Arts), soon the two were sewing masks. When friends started asking for masks, Meg and Cindy suggested donations to Cape Ivy. And once their friends and family had masks, Meg and Cindy turned their attention back to the children in hospitals. Masks have been delivered to two children’s hospitals, along with more ponchos to one of the hospitals.
Cape Ivy will be shipping ponchos, and masks as requested, to children’s hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses for the remainder of the year. Cindy is confident that their roads trips can restart early next year, where they get to meet Child Life staff, house managers, and sometimes patients and their parents. Seeing the joy on the children’s faces makes it all worthwhile. It is Cape Ivy’s goal that these courageous young children, fighting their chronic illnesses in and out of the hospital for years, receive a little extra warmth and comfort from the Cape Ivy ponchos.
As Cindy and Brad settle into their retired lifestyle, they plan to continue to be active in their new community, giving back both locally and nationally.