ATLANTA — Jennifer Lazo had a beautiful smile. It was the first thing her husband, Mario, noticed.
“She was able to light up a room just walking in, smiling,” he said.
Not only did she have a mega-watt smile, but she possessed a high-level desire to help others.
It was something Mario loved watching her do over their 19 years together. But, still, it was surprising to him when she decided to start a non-profit in 2018 - not because she wanted to start a charity, but because she wanted to do it in the middle of a four-year battle with breast cancer.
“That tells you who she was," Mario said. "She was always trying to help."
It was cancer that made Jennifer wonder about her purpose in life. So, she brainstormed the idea of helping cancer patients lift the burden of the largest household bill.
Jennifer reconnected with two old friends, Keeli and Jason Simpson. Together, they created Join the Flock, a charity that helps cancer patients with their mortgage for one month.
At the time, Keeli was working in corporate America and was looking for a way out. And in 2018, the non-profit raised over $7,000 and helped 13 families.
“Giving them that moment of joy, it changed my life, to be honest with you,” Keeli, said.
She now works for Join the Flock full-time.
One of those recipients was Tierney Langdon. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 after finding a lump during a self-examination.
“I tell people I’ve always been a healthy person and was under the impression that if I stay healthy that cancer couldn’t get me," she said, tears in her eyes. "And that’s not true at all.”
Langdon called the donation a God-send. She received it right after her husband lost his job.
“We might not have had a roof over our head,” she said, choking up. “I didn’t know how much that gift was going to mean to me until now, sitting in this chair.”
After four rounds of chemo and reconstructive surgery, Tierney is now in remission. She still struggles, however, with other invisible scars.
“I think the hardest thing has been the mental struggle that cancer can do to you," she said. "It can really mess with your head.”
Tierney is grateful to have come this far in her battle against cancer.
Jennifer, however, didn’t.
She died in May, a few months after the first donations for Join the Flock were released. Before she passed, Jennifer sent a letter to the Ellen DeGeneres Show, hoping to get the charity recognized. After her death, Keeli sent another letter. This time, Ellen Show producers responded.
Keeli went on the show - and the episode which airs as part of Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways.
“When someone like Ellen recognizes your charity, I think it legitimizes it in such a way that people are interested in what we have to say,” Keeli said.
Mario thinks the show appearance is just another way the love of his life is smiling at him.
“Besides the fact that she loves the Ellen show, it was Jennifer moving her pieces from Heaven,” Mario said.
Join the Flock hopes to help more families in 2019. So far, they’ve raised $13,000 of their $75,000 goal. To donate or nominate a family to receive a donation, visit Join the Flock.
Watch Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST.