Leukemia survivor loses car, turns to GoFundMe for help

In early December, Tracy Clark-Valenzuela’s car was repossessed. The divorced mom of two who lives in Woodstock has since depended on friends and Uber to transport her to and from her two jobs.

Accustomed to life’s challenges, Valenzuela figured she would just keep her head down and keep working, but sometimes you need an intervention.

“You can just keep trying and trying and sometimes you just keep banging your head against the wall unless someone reaches out to help you,” said Bonnie Lackey of Palm Beach County, Fla.

So Lackey set up a GoFundMe page for Valenzuela. “She was mortified when I did GoFundMe. She was embarrassed by the whole thing,” said Lackey. “She was used to working it out herself but I said this is beyond your capability right now, you have to do this.”

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Though the page has been active for almost a week, no one has donated toward the desired $11,000 in auto expenses — a reminder that no matter how worthy the cause, crowdfunding can be just another shot in the dark.

Crowdfunding has become a multibillion dollar platform that has provided individuals with everything from health care to start-up funds for a new business. But while anyone can try crowd funding, ultimately it’s the crowd that will tell you yes or no, said crowdfunding expert Kendall Almerico, a contributor to  Crowdfund Insider, a web site that covers news and information on crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending.

There are hundreds of crowdfunding sites out there and though models and regulations have been changing in the seven years since online crowdfunding became popular, the way it works is pretty simple. Anyone can set up a page to raise money for just about any purpose. Once the money is raised, the host site takes a percentage (up to about 13 percent) as a fee.

Valenzuela’s profile is one of more than 23,000 active fundraisers in the metro area currently on GoFundMe. While some pages have raised thousands of dollars, others have languished.

No one can argue that Valenzuela’s cause isn’t compelling. She works as a certified ophthalmic assistant from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. before going to her second job as a grocery store cashier from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. She also works on weekends. She began to fall behind on car payments when child support payments stopped coming from her ex-husband. Then Toyota finance came and took away the car.

Now she just wants some form of transportation. Either her old car (she has until Dec. 23 to pay to get it back) or enough to buy a new car that will help her get around without relying on the kindness of others.

Lackey, whose son is a friend of Valenzuela’s, is most worried about Valenzuela’s health. Valenzuela has survived two bouts of leukemia, first in high school and another 12 years ago. “Stress is the enemy of the cancer patient,” Lackey said, noting how much the situation has weighed on Valenzuela.

And yet, her campaign goes unnoticed, buried beneath pleas from students who want to finish college, people battling illnesses, sick pets with high vet bills, missionaries raising funds to travel abroad and people seeking help for the holidays.

It’s a wonder that anyone can raise money from crowdfunding anymore. As Almerico says, you can’t know what the public will decide, but there are a few ways to help your cause.

As icky as it may sound, you need to do some promotion. Use social media or traditional media to get out the news about your cause and do it for 30 to 60 days. That should give you a 40 percent chance of success, said Almerico.

Always include flattering, well-lit images with your page and it helps to have video if you need to explain an idea in detail. Even more than pictures, video helps show others that you are sincere.

Interested in helping Valenzuela or others on GoFundMe? Click here.

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