Brandon Phillips was just 14 years old when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was given just six weeks to live.
Instead, after five months of intensive chemotherapy, he went into remission.
Now, Phillips is a world-class polo player who is on a mission to help families with children who have cancer, with the star-studded annual Polo for a Purpose fundraising gala and polo match. This year’s event is Feb. 27, with gates at the National Polo Center’s stadium field in Wellington opening at 3 p.m. and the polo match beginning at 4.
“For a long time, I never wanted to speak about it and just kind of wanted to forget what happened,” said Phillips. “It took me awhile, but then this opportunity came up, doing Polo for a Purpose, and I knew it was time.”
Now in its eighth year, Polo for a Purpose has raised $2.2 million to help families dealing with pediatric cancer. Since launching the event, Phillips also started the Polo for Life nonprofit to make sure the money raised through Polo for a Purpose goes directly to these families.
“We’ve been able to help more people in our backyard,” Phillips said. “We’ve now started changing some of the programs we work with, and it’s more financial aid that goes out to local families to help pay their mortgages, help pay their rents, help pay for groceries.”
Through his fundraising efforts, Phillips has met many families where both parents are unable to work as they focus on their child’s cancer treatment. “It’s enough stress trying to save your child from dying” without the stress of not being able to pay bills,” Phillips said. Through the programs established with organizations like the locally based Kids Cancer Foundation, families send in their bills and Phillips pays the creditors directly.
This year’s Polo for a Purpose benefits Pediatric Oncology Support Team (P.O.S.T.), Kids Cancer Foundation and Baptist Health Foundation.
The statistics around pediatric cancer are grim: About 400,000 children around the world develop cancer every year, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In the U.S. alone, more than 10,000 children under age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year, Polo for Life estimates.
All proceeds from Polo for a Purpose go to families in need, Phillips said. “We have very generous donor who look after any expenses,” he said. “My biggest goal is to make sure, if people put money in, it all goes to families.”
The fundraiser’s popular theme of “A Passage to India” continues this year, with guests encouraged to dress in Indian-inspired garb and a menu that includes authentic Indian cuisine. There will be an auction, live entertainment, a cocktail reception, a performance by the Wellington High School marching band and, of course, the polo match.
This year’s match promises to be an exciting, fun matchup, Phillips said. For each year’s Polo for a Purpose match, Phillips calls on his close friends and fellow polo players to join him on the field.
“It’s like getting to go to Madison Square Garden to watch an all-star game,” he said.
Tickets can be purchased individually or by the table. There also is an option to purchase a tailgate ticket, which, while it doesn’t include the cocktail reception and dinner, does include a 10×10 tent, table, valet parking and tickets for 10 guests. “You can have your own party field-side,” Phillips said.
“I know firsthand the fear of a cancer diagnosis and the incredible life that can follow,” he said. “I’ve made it my mission to help as many children and families as I can.”
What: Polo for a Purpose
Where: National Polo Center stadium field, 3667 120th Ave S., Wellington
When: Feb. 27; gates open at 3 p.m. and the match begins at 4 p.m.
Information: 917-838-2074, www.poloforlife.org/passagetoindia
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