Williamsport -- When Laney E. Heller graduated from Pennsylvania College of Technology on December 18, the 20-year-old added baking and pastry arts graduate to a growing list of achievements. Heller is a 10-year cancer survivor and tireless fundraiser for children with cancer through the Delaney Heller Foundation.
The foundation was established in 2011 by family and friends when Heller, of Cogan Station, was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an aggressive brain tumor that is difficult to treat.
“The purpose was to help me and my family with food, travel expenses and hospital costs until we got our finances figured out and what medical assistance we needed,” Heller explained.
“I then started doing more fundraisers for other families around here,” she said, to help others whose children are in cancer treatment in the same way she and her family were helped.
Among the foundation’s initiatives:
Two Make-A-Wish golf tournaments raised around $15,000 to send children on a trip or to a concert. Heller’s own Make-A-Wish trip was to Disney. “These are trips they may never get to experience again with the health condition some of the these kids have, so I love to help them out,” she said.
A cornhole tournament this year celebrated Heller’s 10-year survivor milestone and raised $6,000. Funds were provided to the family of a child with cancer and to Aly’s Monkey Movement.
The Dean’s List student has incorporated her passion for baking, too, making and selling her tasty product for profit and giving at least half – sometimes all – of the proceeds to the foundation. At the same time, she’s building a name for the foundation and for the bakery she’d like to open someday.
“This foundation is important to me because when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t really know how we were going to come up with the money for bills and food, and to have people do fundraisers for me and then start the Delaney Heller Foundation means so much to me to have the backup for my parents,” she said.
“We have gone over what I ever thought I would do with this foundation,” she added. “I never thought I would be helping other families in our community and other foundations.”
Heller’s love for baking began as a child spending time in the kitchen with her mother and grandparents.
“I always loved the aroma of baking, and it just seemed my passion,” she said. “My mom said to me, ‘You might change your mind. You might not always like to bake, especially for the rest of your life with the long hours.’ And I thought, ‘No, I love to bake. Even on my days off from three days of lab (at Penn College), I’m usually in the kitchen baking.’”
Those long hours in the baking and pastry arts lab have, at times, been a struggle.
“But I have come really far with doing 10-hour days,” she said, adding gigs making cakes and cupcakes for friends’ weddings and birthdays, and completing an internship at Farrington Place, a wedding and event venue where she completed some even longer days and had a great experience. “I came past those and learned many different skills.”
“Laney truly embodies what it means to be a hard worker in the hospitality industry,” said Brian D. Walton, assistant dean of business and hospitality. “In spite of the demanding workload our hospitality students face, Laney always faces a challenge with a positive attitude that helps move the team forward.”
Adding to her resolve is the doubt she’s seen in others when she’s faced with making up class time she missed while sick, and the words of a high school instructor who told her: “You might want to go into another major. It’s really tough. I don’t think it is the right one for you.”
“I put my head up, and I show them I can do the long hours and make up days I miss, and it won’t get to me – or they won’t get to me,” she said.
It’s among many odds she’s beaten, and she’s determined to keep going.
“I hope one day, with my degree, to open my own bakery called Sweet Laney Lou’s and serve cute cupcakes, pastries, and breakfast and lunch,” she said.
But first, she plans to work in another bakery or café to gain experience and build her finances, and to complete a bachelor’s degree in applied management from Penn College to top off her associate degree in baking and pastry arts.
And she’ll keep supporting the Delaney Heller Foundation and the families it helps.
“My foundation is one thing that I care for, along with my degree, and that’s why I fight and care so hard for them,” she said.