After being diagnosed with cancer, James Neustice, Cal Poly Pomona alumnus (’11, liberal arts) and current graduate student in business, founded the nonprofit charity, A Day To Play, as a way to bring light into the lives of child patients staying at the hospital, fighting their own battles as he was fighting his own.
Neustice first began taking donations six years ago through a Facebook post in December, asking friends and family for donations of toys and blankets to bring along with him to the hospital. Neustice recalls receiving around $200 worth of donations the first year.
Overall in 2019, A Day To Play brought in an estimated $16,000 to $20,000 worth of donations for children, and was officially recognized as an established charity, according to Neustice. A Day To Play accepts a variety of donations including toys, blankets, gift cards and money.
“At A Day To Play we’re raising funds and promoting initiatives to serve the people who need them most. We believe in taking action with urgency in order to raise public awareness about some of the most pressing issues facing today’s society,” according to adaytoplay.org.
Now as the chief executive officer of A Day To Play, Neustice works among other CPP students and alumni to continue accepting donations for children staying in hospitals across California.
“Last year we covered City of Hope Children’s Hospital of Orange County and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and this year we covered City of Hope Children’s Hospital Orange County, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, (Rady) Children’s Hospital-San Diego and Children’s Hospital Loma Linda,” Neustice said.
While a student at Cal State Long Beach, Neustice was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer known as osteosarcoma when he was 22 years old. “I lost my right leg to it. When I finally got healthy eight years later, I started attending CPP. I graduated with my bachelor’s in liberal arts.”
Osteosarcoma is defined by the American Cancer Society (ACS) as one of the most common types of cancer to start in bones. “The cancer cells in these tumors look like early forms of bone cells that normally help make bone tissue, but the bone tissue in osteosarcoma is not as strong as that or normal bones,” according to the ACS website.
Now 41 years old, Neustice has been cancer-free for 12 years. He is also attending CPP once again, however, this time for a master’s degree in business and is expected to graduate in 2021.
“It was a rough road, you know? But everyone has their own issues that they have to go through. I can’t discount anyone else’s journey. We all have different things we have to face,” Neustice said.
Neustice began recruiting volunteers for A Day To Play through the people he met in his classes while attending CPP. All members working for the charity are volunteers.
The team at A Day To Play recently began its “Christmas in July” program in 2019 to encourage year-round donations instead of only during the charitable holiday months of November and December. The team visited one hospital this past year for “Christmas in July” and hopes to expand to more hospitals in the future.
The team also holds small events at bars, local coffee shops and stores to accept donations.
As of now, the team’s goal is to expand to Nevada and north of the San Francisco area.
“We’re aiming to support children currently fighting major medical illnesses by supporting their mental and emotional states,” Neustice said. “So basically, we’re just trying to find a way to make their lives easier while they’re going through their hard times in life …. Anyone who wants to help, they’re more than welcome to. We can use the support.”
For more information on volunteering or donating to A Day to Play, visit the organization’s Instagram page @adaytoplay.
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