Kenny Freeland knows all about the emotional and financial burdens families face when a child comes down with a serious illness. A few years ago, he discussed his own childhood experiences with co-founder Joshua Castillo—leading them down the “rabbit hole” to see what resources were available to families today.
“One thing we really could not find was pure financial relief—checks cut to families, money in the account,” Freeland told Dallas Innovates.
To develop a solution, Freeland and Castillo knew they’d need some funding of their own. So they formed local nonprofit Salood—derived from the Spanish word for health—and began enabling pediatric cancer patients to pursue their creative talents by helping to design and sell products. The proceeds provide financial relief to pediatric cancer patients’ families.
It’s a model that has since helped hundreds of families in the region. And now Salood is looking to expand it.
Financial aid into the hands of families
“When we were building this program, the number one thing we were thinking about was how to make this as easy as possible for the families who need the support,” Freeland said. “When you try to get help, you’re jumping through hoops, you’re filling out all these applications and pulling W2s, and it’s this huge process.”
Saloon currently works primarily with Children’s Health Dallas. Social workers at the hospital connect families of child oncology patients with the nonprofit, which cuts the families a flat check that comes with no questions asked or strings attached on how they use it.
“Once that check is cut, it goes to [the families],” Freeland said. “They can deposit it, they can use it for whatever their need is, because everyone’s needs are different.”
Creating to help those in need
Freeland said Salood seeks to help all families who approach the nonprofit. But a large portion of the funding for those checks comes from asking cancer patients between the age of 10 and 18 to become “ambassadors.”
As an ambassador, a patient is paired up with a brand that aligns with their passions. From there, they work with that company—whether by designing a new accessory or selecting a specialty dessert to be served—to help create something can be sold. Half of the proceeds go back to Salood to further their mission and get more financial aid into the pockets of families in need.
“What’s been going on for the last decade is influencers and celebrity partnerships. That really sparked that idea of, ‘What if we put a kid who’s going through cancer as that celebrity influential collaborator and make it really about them?'” Freeland said. “These kids are very aspirational. They’re remarkable in so many ways. I think sometimes when the public looks at a kid with an illness, they forget that there’s still a kid deep down there who has dreams and wants to do big things.”
Since forming in 2019, Salood has worked with notable names like accessory brand Lele Sadoughi, handbag designer Kelly Wynne, and restaurant chain HopDoddy Burger Bar. That’s translated into the nonprofit raising more than $100,000 in product sales, enabling it to provide assistance to more than 100 families.
Salood aims to be in ‘every major city’ in the U.S.
Seeing success so far, Salood now aims to expand its reach. For North Texas Giving Day today, the nonprofit is hoping to raise $10,000. An unnamed family has agreed to match donations up to that amount. And that’s only part of a broader effort to raise money for Salood’s financial aid fund, which the organization is pushing through November.
“We’ve really proved that this model works in the nonprofit space. And we’ve shown how it has a huge impact on the ambassador and their families,” Freeland said. “We’ve also been able to show how all this money is going towards these families who need assistance, which has helped create more openness to the idea.”
Aiming to add five new hospitals to its network
In the near-term, that money will help Salood pursue its goal of adding five new hospitals to the network that it works with, in addition to enabling it to write larger checks to families.
From there, Freeland said he sees a path to “exponential growth” with the goal of becoming the go-to for the pediatric cancer community. Ultimately, Freeland said he hopes to see Salood have a presence in “every major city” across the country, enabling it to impact more lives.
“I would really love to be able to financially support any pediatric cancer family who needs support on a yearly basis throughout the U.S.,” Freeland said. “We really want Salood to be synonymous with financial relief in the pediatric cancer community. And we want to be what families think about when they find out their child has cancer, and their world is rocked at that time.”
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