“GO BO” Raises Nearly a Million in Dough: How a D.C.-area family turned their pediatric cancer experience into a fundraising party machine


It’s been 20 years since Bo Johns had his tonsils out, but he remembers the day clearly, because it changed his—and his family’s—life.

It was Friday, the day before Halloween. He was 11 years old, and his tonsillectomy was supposed to be a routine operation. But the following Wednesday, he returned to the hospital with his father because the doctors had found lymphoma in his tonsil.

That diagnosis sent a chain of events into motion: Johns spent 90 days in the hospital, turned 12, and after six rounds of chemo, he was declared cancer-free. Today, at the age of 32, he continues to be in remission.

But during the hospitalization, the Johns family realized they were lucky, more than medically.

“One of my parents was in the hospital with me, every single night of my 90 days, which I think was incredibly rare,” Johns remembers. “We saw so many other families who did not have that, during an incredibly scary time.”

Johns’ family, medical team and community had rallied around him. His ice hockey team, for example, put “GO BO GO” on their jerseys. Their Georgetown and greater Washington, D.C. community support was so strong that it gave the family an idea.

“We wanted to leverage that support, to support other kids,” Johns explains.

Bo Johns (third from left) at the 13th Annual GO BO Party, “The Beach Ball” (Courtesy)

The family’s first fundraiser was a yard sale with sports equipment at Johns’ school. A flurry of green and white “GO BO GO” bumper stickers raised additional funds. Then, Johns’ mother blew the fundraising efforts wide open.

“My mom had always wanted to throw a big ‘Green Acres’-themed party,” Johns says.
It was the first of 18 “GO BO Party” fundraisers held over the past 20 years, each one uniquely themed, with the ultimate goal of raising money to help families facing pediatric cancer.

“There are so many amazing fundraisers in D.C.—many of them black tie, just incredible—but we were trying to have fun and be unconventional, having a great time for a great cause,” Johns explains.

This year’s “Barbie’s World” party raised over $50,000. Collectively, the fun fundraisers have netted nearly a million dollars—all of it going to the Family Relief Fund at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

“What connects me to the impact are the individual stories we hear about how the fund relieves stress for families, impacting hundreds of lives over the years,” Johns says. “It’s less of a testament to me and my family, and more of a testament to the community.”

Heather Tomaselli sees the impact firsthand. As a clinical social worker at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, she connects families facing cancer with funds—about $50,000 every year.

“We support about 95% of families with financial assistance, even if the family has insurance,” Tomaselli says. “No one prepares for their children or young adults to have to battle cancer, and there are a lot of out-of-pocket costs.”

Drawing from the Barbie movie hype, a Barbie-themed event for September 2023 (Courtesy)

That list includes non-medical costs, many of them associated with parents being bedside, like Bo Johns’ parents: transportation—including car repairs—for treatment and hospitalizations, temporary housing for long patient stays and rent and mortgage payments during periods of time when parents may not be working.

Sometimes, funds are also utilized for funeral costs, relieving a completely unexpected expense. No family anticipates their child’s funeral.

“I’ve been working as a social worker for 14 years,” Tomaselli says, “and I’ve never been able to provide financial support to families like I can now—it’s so unique. I have so much admiration for the Johns family and what they’ve done over the years—it’s amazing.”

As the GO BO Party has grown over the years, so has Bo Johns.

“It’s mirrored my growing up as a person, figuring out where I can give back—it helped me become the person I am today,” says Johns, who’s a management strategy consultant for a real estate company. In a continuous circle of giving, Johns also serves as a board member for the nonprofit Foundation for Community Betterment, which handles GO BO and many other charities’ donations.

Johns encourages D.C.-area families to get involved in causes that are meaningful to them.

“My philosophy is that no act is too small,” Johns says, advising families to evaluate whether they can give their time, talents or treasures. “Find out what drives you and what impact you want to make.”

“To be a small help in the bigger picture is very rewarding,” says Tomasselli.

The next GO BO Party is set for September 13, 2024. For more information, or to make a donation, visit gobogo.org.


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