Lancaster Limelight: A Week Away (and Why It Matters)

At Gents of Lancaster, we tend to focus a lot on style and local business.

But there’s an important part of Lancaster that often gets overlooked — nonprofit organizations.

Lancaster is home to a shocking number of nonprofits that seek to benefit the community, state, and even country from their humble homes in Amish country.

One of them is called A Week Away.

Full disclosure: I volunteer with A Week Away in a digital marketing capacity. But it’s not the fact that I work with them that makes me want to talk about them.

It’s the fact that AWA is…

Pretty damn unique.

I don’t know of any other organization that does quite what AWA does, and it’s hard to find one that has such a robust network of professionals willing to spend their time to move this organization while asking for nothing in return.

But we’ll get into that in a second.

First, let’s answer the most important question — what is AWA?

What Is A Week Away?

AWA is a nonprofit organization that works with families whose members have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

Once they start working with a qualified family, AWA connects that family with a volunteered vacation home, a generous vacation stipend, and a week to “find the peace they thought was lost.”

AWA is funded through donations and partnerships with local businesses. They’re involved with a number of events throughout the year, including a golf outing at the Hershey Country Club, the Lancaster City tree lighting, and a fundraising gala.

All of this money goes to operation costs and setting up vacations for families’ “respites.”

Again, there’s no money paid out in salaries or stipends to the volunteers — even on the board of directors.

100% of the funding goes toward keeping AWA operational and giving each family some much-needed rest, relaxation, and togetherness.

It’s a pretty unique organization, right? It’s the kind of organization that when you hear it, you can’t believe that you haven’t heard of other places doing this same thing.

It’s also the kind of organization that you know has to have a story behind it.

What Is A Week Away’s Story?

AWA was founded by Caleb Walker.

Caleb got the idea for AWA when he and his best friend got the opportunity to spend a weekend in Ocean City, Maryland courtesy of a kind-hearted benefactor.

This trip came four years after Caleb was diagnosed stage three anaplastic ependymoma, an exceptionally rare form of cancer that affects the brain and spine.

As Caleb writes in his letter on AWA’s website:

“I can still remember how that weekend was one of the first times I felt like a normal person since the diagnosis. The time spent with my family combined with the peaceful ease of the trip allowed me dream of the possibility of one day living cancer free.”

Caleb Walker

Caleb describes this period of his life as “tumultuous” — but it’s clear that the challenges he faced went beyond the English language’s ability to capture hardship.

Six brain surgeries. Three courses of radiation. Countless chemotherapy sessions.

Much of Caleb’s time was spent in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, battling anaplastic ependymoma every time it raised its fists — which it did quite often.

Caleb credits his family, friends, and caregivers for their tremendous support during this time. As he says, it gave him the perspective to understand how much of a toll cancer can take on not just the person who’s diagnosed, but also those around them.

This life experience — as tragic and taxing as it may have been — is ultimately what led to the creation of AWA.

Again, in Caleb’s words:

“So why start this foundation? It’s very simple… We hope to give every immediate family member and/or primary caregiver a week of peace in their chaotic world. We believe that by giving families even just one week of peace together they can return home with the hope they need to continue their fight.”

Caleb Walker

Sadly, Caleb passed away on December 3, 2014 — but not before solidifying his legacy in the form of AWA.

Reading Caleb’s letter is inspiring in dozens of ways. It also paints a clear picture for how AWA came to be.

It’s the kind of organization that could only exist through the unique experience and perspective someone acquires by going through the hardest times of their lives.

And that’s why the results are so incredible.

What Are the Results of A Week Away?

AWA is captivating in that the organization does exactly what it says on the tin, but there’s so much more to it than just time.

That time is open for families and friends to spend it with one another.

There aren’t any trips to hospitals.

There aren’t any anxious hours in waiting rooms.

No bags, no needles, no nurses searching for a vein, no surgeons slapping X-rays against a backlit screen.

All of those things have their times and their places.

But it’s not during a family’s week away.

“Respite families,” as AWA calls their beneficiaries, regularly write to the nonprofit to express their gratitude and tell stories of their own.

Families who have children diagnosed with cancer. Parents who had fought cancer themselves. Friends, families, loved ones all around.

And, for what could be the first time in years, moments of peace.

What Do People Say about A Week Away?

AWA has some of the most moving testimonials you can find from an organization.

They’re not “testimonials” in the traditional sense — they’re actually letters written by families, completely unedited and untouched.

They’re emotional:

“Words could not possibly express the pure gratitude I continue to hold for A Week Away and for every single person working tirelessly to create normalcy for one week for families just like ours.”

The Lynch Family

They’re thankful:

“So I sit here on this beautiful balcony, listening to children laughing and hearing the ocean move, and the thought of Caleb bring tears to my eyes. It’s a heart crushing kind of gratitude that I have towards Caleb and the entire A Week Away team.”

Erica Lehman

And they show Caleb’s fingerprints everywhere:

“Caleb said, “When you get away, you feel normal.” And we did. We felt gloriously normal. A Week Away and our friends gave us that. And, we will forever be grateful.”

Ambriel Renn-Scanlan

So what can you do to support AWA?

How You Can Support AWA Today

AWA is almost exclusively fueled by donations. As the news of their unique work spreads across the United States, they need more and more donations to accommodate families in need.

This is where you can come in.

Go to AWA’s website. Click the donate button. It doesn’t matter how much you have to give — all that matters is that you give something.

When you do, you’ll give a family in dire straits a breath of fresh air as they spend a week away.