When their beautiful 11-year-old son Zac Minty passed away after three years of battling cancer, his parents launched the Bricks and Smiles Sub Fund in his memory.
Zac Minty was just 11 years old when he sadly passed away from rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare tissue cancer. As his symptoms progressed and became difficult to manage, he moved from hospital to Bear Cottage in Manly, Sydney, which provides support and respite for children with life-limiting conditions and their families.
“There was one scene that sticks in my mind of him at Bear Cottage in one of those beautiful little rooms, and he’s on the floor with me in the evening and building this amazing LEGO Combi Van,” his mum Rebecca says.
Throughout his years of treatment and even before his diagnosis, like most young children, Zac loved creating with LEGO. To honour his memory, his parents set up Bricks and Smiles – The Zac Minty Legacy Project, which helps support cancer research and also provides dream LEGO kits to children with cancer.
“After he passed, something that really struck me was how huge LEGO was for him,” Rebecca says. “Building his creations and making slow-motion videos was one element of it, and then the other element was that he just was so empathetic and wanted to help other kids with cancer.”
Building a legacy
Rebecca started a GoFundMe initially to raise funds in Zac’s memory, which she says helped her with the grieving process and in honouring Zac and what he would have wanted.
“We were planning his life celebration and I just thought it’s such an opportunity because in our community, everyone wanted to do something. When we started the GoFundMe and had raised all this money then the path was set, and it’s been a really useful journey. It’s been hard for me, but useful in being an active participant in my own grief,” Rebecca says.
“When I first started thinking about this a partner in one of the Sydney law firms suggested going to Sydney Community Foundation, as setting up a Sub Fund is much easier way than setting up your own charity.
“Meeting Sydney Community Foundation was an absolute godsend because it just took this burden off me of having to do all the paperwork and administration.”
Starting the Sub Fund through Sydney Community Foundation also allowed Zac’s grandmother to set up a cake stall with all proceeds going to Bricks and Smiles. She continues to run it every fortnight and receives lots of love and support from her local community.
“My mum is 78 and so full of energy, it was really important to her to run the cake stall. It gives her a chance to talk about Zac and her friends bake cakes for her to sell,” Rebecca says.
Making an impact
To date, Bricks and Smiles has donated $20,000 to clinical research, $10,000 of which was matched dollar for dollar by Tour de Cure to fund sarcoma research. The Sub Fund has also made 38 grants of LEGO to the value of $500 each to children and young people undergoing oncology treatment in NSW and ACT.
“The two elements are perfectly complimentary because in reality, it’s a very small amount of money and if it all went to cancer research, it would be a drop in the ocean,” Rebecca says.
“The LEGO side really personalises it, brings memories of Zac and pays it forward to other kids going through a similar situation.”
Rebecca is now in contact with a couple of the social workers at Westmead and Randwick hospitals, and receives feedback on how the LEGO grants have impacted the children and families who receive them.
“The social workers say it really helps with that initial engagement with families and makes their job a bit easier. And then sometimes I get feedback from parents too, beautiful stories and even photos of children with their LEGO sets.
“Starting the Fund has had really unexpected dividends in terms of community interest, community contribution, friends and even strangers supporting a really worthy cause of reducing or finding a cure for cancer and making the experience of kids going through cancer that little bit easier.”