With the enthusiasm of a child, the energy of a world-class athlete and the tenacity of a pit bull, Andrea Jaeger brings joy to the lives of children with cancer at her Silver Lining Ranch. Once a lonely child herself (she used to play Monopoly solo, her left hand against her right), Andrea's greatest gift may be her willingness to make a complete fool of herself to get a child to smile. That could explain how she found the nerve to walk up to Madonna and ask for a donation, or to impress her neighbor Kevin Costner so much that he invited the kids up to his lake to fish.
After five days of riding, rafting, swimming, bowling, painting, and, of course, tennis, the kids at the Silver Lining Ranch must feel like family. A very special kind of family, where what you share is cure rates and chemo, hair loss and foot drop, and "How long before your mom knew you weren't faking the pain to get out of school?" or "Do you think God has a plan for you?"
One look at Andrea's face and you can tell that the children's unflinching heroism is a common occurrence, and the reason she works 24/7 to keep the kids coming.
Sixteen years ago, Andrea began investigating how she could help kids with cancer. With the support of longtime friend Heidi Bookout, Andrea cashed in her Mercedes and her No.2-in-the-world tennis earnings. Within four years, the Silver Lining Foundation was born. The ranch was only a dream then; the kids stayed in Aspen hotels. Then, one day, a local pediatrician suggested that Andrea invite neighbors Fritz and Fabi Benedict to a barbecue with the kids.
"Just before I called," Andrea says, "Fabi was looking across the land outside her kitchen window, asking God what to do with it. I had never spoken to this lady in my life, but ... before the day was over, she'd given us ten acres of land."
Building the 18,600-square-foot ranch, with its medical suite, stage, bowling alley, pool, corral and six dorm rooms cost another $6 million, but once financier Ted Forstmann donated $1.7 million, there was no stopping Andrea.
At 14, Andrea Jaeger was a superstar; at 37, she's a superhero who never stops moving, never stops caring, never stops fund-raising and never stops dreaming of the next adventure she can create for the kids.
Pam Houston has completed her first play, Tracking the Pleiades.
What You Can Do
For information on the Silver Lining Foundation and camp, visit www.Silverliningfoundation.org.