During the summer of 1998, Joel Stephens was battling colon cancer after being diagnosed the year before. The 22-year-old Baltimore Orioles minor league baseball player had received extensive treatment and his cancer was in remission when he made a courageous attempt to return to baseball that summer with the Frederick Keys. His goal was to get one more professional at-bat with the local team at Harry Grove Stadium. While he was building his strength to reach his goal, after several weeks, Joel’s cancer returned. The Elmira, N.Y. native died on September 30, 1998.
Less than two years later, the Frederick Keys honored Joel’s memory by establishing a fund with The Community Foundation of Frederick County. Now called The Frederick Keys Care Fund, it provides financial support to Frederick County youth programs with preference given to those serving youth with disabilities, youth who have serious or terminal illness, and youth who are coping with the loss of a loved one.
Joel’s love for children, particularly those with health-related issues, disabilities, difficult home situations, or suffering a loss, inspired the establishment of the memorial fund. His courage, character, and commitment to community service were admired by the Keys organization and those traits are reflected in how the fund helps local organizations today.
As it approaches its 20th anniversary this month, The Frederick Keys Care Fund has disbursed nearly $80,000 in grants to 21 organizations in Frederick County. The fund recently provided a grant to the YMCA of Frederick County Kids Unlimited program, which holds summer camps for children with autism and other special needs. The fund has also supported the Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership (SHIP) of Frederick County’s New Horizons summer program, which provides homeless high school students with five weeks of school instruction, life skills training, and field trips designed to expose them to opportunities in the community. Other organizations that have benefitted from the fund include Heartly House, Sophie and Madigan’s Playground, and Blessings in a Backpack.
Joel Stephens’ courage, spirit, honesty, and integrity have made a lasting impression on the Frederick Keys organization and those who knew him. While his life ended too soon, the fund that honors his memory will have a positive impact on the lives of youth and young adults in Frederick County for generations to come.