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Beating Back Childhood Cancer

BrianRaising nearly $200,000 in three short years to fuel the fight against childhood cancer could not have been achieved without the passionate work of CCI graduates Brian Barger (B.S./ JEM ’98) and Christina Harrill (B.S. /PR ’99) and their spouses, Misty (B.S./ED ‘98) and James (B.S./ENG ‘98). Brian and his wife, Misty, lost their youngest daughter, Emily, to Rhabdomyosarcoma in June of 2008 at the age of seven, and Christina and her husband, James, lost their daughter, Maddie, at the age of 5, to the same cancer within a few weeks of Emily’s death.

While sitting in the waiting room at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (ETCH), Brian and James formulated a plan to fight back. Both carefully researched several area charities and other children’s cancer funds to provide a framework for their efforts. They wanted to form with an organization whose fundraising was completely transparent and committed to carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities.* They also wanted to focus the money raised on local efforts as much as possible. The Butterfly Fund ( was formed so that these goals could be achieved.The Butterfly Fund

Barger’s work as the morning and noon news producer for WBIR-TV and WTNZ-TV in Knoxville has played an important role in support of the Butterfly Fund’s money raising efforts. As the Butterfly Fund has held fundraising events such as the annual Black Tie Gala, the Butterflies and Bowties Event, and the 5k Race and Golf Tournament, Brian has been able to produce public service announcements (PSAs) and on-air information to help spread the word about these events on local television and radio stations. As a result, the Butterfly Fund is able to raise funds regionally and is no longer just a local charity. Barger estimates that as much as 50% of the funds raised would not have been collected were it not for the professional communication vehicles which have been used to build awareness.

“The Butterfly Fund is one of the East Tennessee Foundation’s fastest growing funds over the past three years,” said ETF President and CEO Michael T. McClamroch.  “Its success is a direct result of the passion and commitment of the Bargers and Harrills in their efforts to support research, treatment, and services dedicated to the defeat of childhood cancers.  We are proud to be their partner in this cause.”

“It’s a team effort and amazing how each of us has a talent to contribute to the promotion of the charity,” according to Barger. “James kicks in his organizational and project management skills as an engineer. Misty handles the social media and plans all of the children’s activities. Christina is usually our on-air interv

One of the Butterfly Fund rooms at ETCH

iewee and I post the releases and oversee the production of the PSAs. The TV station has been great to support us and broadcast our event announcements.”

The media production skills used by Barger professionally and in support of the Butterfly Fund began during his time at UT Knoxville where he majored in broadcasting and completed an internship at WVLT-TV and a practicum at WBIR-TV. He was later hired as a video editor at WBIR and has been in his current news producer position for nine years. 

“We at least feel like we are doing something. We couldn’t save our daughters from cancer, but we can help other families,” said Barger. “We plan to keep going until we defeat early childhood cancer. If we have to raise the money to build a new oncology clinic, we’ll make it happen.”

* The Butterfly Fund collects donations through the East Tennessee Foundation: