Community member’s dedication to helping others leads to gift supporting cancer research

Natalie Ford outside her family home
Natalie Ford outside her family home.

Natalie Ford, a resident of Chicago’s South Side, is committed to helping others, a value she learned at an early age from her mother.

“My mother was a strong woman who led by example,” Ford said. “She always said, ‘Life isn’t about what you can do for yourself; it’s about what you can do to help society.’”

Carrying forward her mother’s legacy, Ford has created an endowment fund with a gift of $100,000 to support scientific research, education and training for breast cancer at the University of Chicago. The fund was created in memory of three women close to her who were affected by the disease.

Ford, who works for a nonprofit organization that helps with job training and placement, was able to make the gift by building on her inheritance from family members through personal investments and disciplined savings. She notes that, regardless of the amount, gifts made by people like her who have supported family and friends affected by cancer can add up and make a difference.

“The fund I’ve established represents my dedication and care for those who come behind me,” Ford said. “There are a lot of problems in the world today, and while I can’t solve everything, I have found a way to focus on what’s most important to me to have the greatest impact. I think if you look beyond yourself, you begin to see the world through a new lens and recognize the importance of helping others.”

I’m hoping that this funding can help provide support because not everyone has a nuclear family, not everyone has someone they can call when they’re facing something like this. 

The youngest of 10, Ford recounts a happy childhood with parents who emphasized the importance of education and hard work but also made time for fun activities like summer camp and trips to Disneyland. Ford went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, including completing a semester at Harvard University. During and after college, she continued to follow her mother’s advice by volunteering to help ex-offenders prepare for the GED and cooking meals for people with AIDS.

Later in adulthood, however, Ford’s life took a turn, as she faced a series of family tragedies and loss.

“Sometimes your life gets interrupted by events that are beyond your control,” Ford said. “Though difficult, these experiences can really help to shape you.”

Ford hopes the fund she established will lead to better treatment options for breast cancer and, ultimately, a cure. She also hopes the gift can help provide supportive services for patients and their family members.

“When you first hear that a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be isolating, and you can experience a range of emotions — anger, sadness, helplessness,” Ford said. “I’m hoping that this funding can help provide support because not everyone has a nuclear family, not everyone has someone they can call when they’re facing something like this.”

Ford was motivated to make the gift to the University of Chicago because of personal ties to the University as a community member, as well as its reputation for groundbreaking medical and scientific discovery, including a history of Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.

Ford is confident in the University of Chicago’s ability to drive cancer research forward.

“If anyone can find a cure for cancer, I think the University of Chicago has the ability to because it attracts some of the brightest minds — people who are dedicated to finding a cure, who wake up every day ready to go into the laboratory to study the disease and build on prior research,” Ford said.

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