In the more than two years since its inception, United Luv has provided almost 200 iPads to cancer patients, hospitals and other treatment or care centers and, with the help of potentially hundreds of glowing Billings residents, it plans to provide many more.
The Billings-based nonprofit has been handing out the iPads since 2013 and on Oct. 3 will hold its second Unite for the Night Glow Run, which challenges runners to wear glow-in-the-dark clothing for an evening 5K or two-mile race at Pioneer Park.
“So many people have said they love giving money because they know 100 percent of that money is going straight to buying an iPad,” said Vicki Eaton, who helps run United Luv and the event. “So if they give $800, that’s buying two iPads.”
United Luv is the brainchild of two of Eaton’s sons, Ryan and Dallas Eaton, and today honors Ryan, who died of cancer in 2013.
The two brothers had for years talked about starting up a T-shirt business together, which became a reality when Ryan used it as a project to get accepted to a Los Angeles graphic design school.
Combined with Dallas’ recently earned business degree, the project was a natural fit.
However, Ryan soon became ill with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue, and moved back to Billings. He also decided that if the T-shirt business took off, a portion of the proceeds would go to helping cancer patients.
While receiving cancer treatment in Seattle, Ryan noticed other patients who, unlike him, didn’t have family by their side or a way to communicate with loved ones. That included a young man who was there several times at the same time at Ryan, but whose family couldn’t be there with him.
“Ryan said, ‘I just feel so bad,’” Vicki Eaton recalled her son saying. “’If he had an iPad, he could get Facebook messages from his friends, he could Skype, he could see his family and friends.’ He said, ‘I still want to do my T-shirt business, but I’m giving the money back. This is just awful. I want people to be able to do those things.’”
Ryan died in February 2013, but his parents and two brothers have taken that idea and run with it, expanding the efforts to provide, so far, 195 iPads to a wide variety of people and facilities.
Eaton said that includes Montana hospitals, treatment centers, oncology centers, neonatal intensive care units, individual kids undergoing treatment, cancer care facilities in Seattle and, most recently, nursing homes.
“It’s all really the same concept,” she said. “People are going through treatment alone without a lot of things to do. It’s kind of the same at the homes or in the hospital, which was kind of our son’s whole idea. We’re excited about continuing that one.”
The Unite for the Night Glow Run will put its profits toward that goal as well. The evening run and event is the result of another project from a different Eaton family member.
Ryan’s cousin, Rachel Eaton, organized the first race in the fall of 2013 as part of a school project during her senior year at Senior High.
The inaugural event drew about 900 people and, after a year off, is back for 2015.
Vicki Eaton said that the response so far for the second run has been positive, with businesses and entire school classes signing up early on, and that she expects to see more participants than the first time around.
“It’s not just a run,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and the money goes towards purchasing iPads.”We feel like we’re carrying this on for Ryan, and we know it’s made a difference.”