Pivotal Player Q&A: Len Forkas, Business and Philanthropy Leader, Biking Across the U.S. to Help Kids with Cancer
In 2002, Len Forkas, founder of Milestone Communications, faced a challenge that is every parent’s nightmare: his 10-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. For many children undergoing cancer treatment, it is a period of extreme isolation where going to school, or hanging out with friends, is impossible because of the medical treatments that suppress their immune systems.
Motivated by the desire to restore normalcy to his son’s life, Len worked tirelessly with the Fairfax Country School District to install a webcam in his son’s classroom, allowing for him to participate virtually in school lessons and stay connected with fellow classmates and friends.
Inspired by the outcome of this effort, Len founded a unique nonprofit in 2003 called Hopecam, which connects homebound children undergoing treatment for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, with their friends at school using laptops, high speed internet connections, and webcams.
In addition to running a wireless infrastructure business, and managing a successful nonprofit, this week Len is embarking on an epic and potentially grueling challenge in the name of raising awareness for Hopecam. A true pivotal player, he will be riding his bike 3,000 miles across the U.S. in 12 days as part of Ride Across America.
We were fortunate enough to connect with Len before he makes this trip and he had some very enlightening and inspiring things to share with us.
Pivotal Plays Blog: Tell us about Hopecam and why you founded the organization.
Len: When my son was diagnosed with leukemia, he had to stay home for 9 months, which is like an extended jail sentence for any child. Being 10 years old at the time, this was such a critical period in his development that we wanted him to have a normal life. In a matter of eight weeks – this was before Skype or streaming other technologies had come to the market by the way – we worked with Fairfax County to install these webcams and it truly made a difference in my son’s recovery. Seeing how this impacted my son is what inspired me to launch Hopecam.
Pivotal Plays Blog: What are some of the big milestones that you have achieved?
Len: When I saw how easy it was for my son to transition back into school, it made sense to find a way to help out more kids with cancer who are homebound with webcams. And during this stressful period, I turned to exercise and I participated in a number of Ultra marathons and other endurance events to raise money for Hopecam. As a result of this effort, as well as from tremendous support from donors, our staff and volunteers, we have connected more than 225 children in 19 states and 3 countries with friends, classmates, and their families.
Pivotal Plays Blog: Tell us about what you are doing next week for Race Across America.
Len: Race Across America has been around for 30 years, and is by far one of the toughest endurance challenges one could undertake. It is an international event with 13 countries being represented and I qualified for the solo category, which is the most difficult. Basically, we have to complete the journey in 12 days, riding 250 miles per day. We essentially ride for 20 hours each day and sleep for 3-4 hours each night. It’s longer than the Tour de France in half the time.
Pivotal Plays Blog: As a business and philanthropic leader, what are your key secrets to success and what drives you?
Len: Well, I have been blessed with having perseverance, good genes, and the ability to function with minimal sleep. I am 52 years old and am thankful that I have the physical and psychology ability to take on such a challenge. Though what really motivates me are the children. In many ways, the grueling experience of riding a bike across the country has many parallels to a child fighting cancer. But, I have the luxury of taking a break and pulling over on the side of the road when things get rough. Children with cancer who are fighting for their lives don’t have that option. Knowing this is what ultimately motivates me.
We want to thank Len for taking the time to speak with us. His journey will be documented in real time on the Hopecam blog. And if you want to share words of encouragement while he is on the road, send him a message here.