:Learn more about Denise Bebenek and how she is creating a circle of hope through the power of community and supporting one another.
Denise Bebenek is the Founder, President and driving force behind Meagan Bebenek Foundation: Creating a Circle of Hope.
A Toronto resident and graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Honours in Psychology and the University of Toronto Faculty of Education, Denise, a former schoolteacher, is a tireless advocate for families who are touched by brain tumours, and for the empowerment of all children to help one another. Meagan Bebenek Foundation also promotes ground-breaking research, providing much-needed funds to Toronto’s Brain Tumour Research Centre (BTRC), fostering a culture of discovery and care that is improving the care, quality of life, and survival rates for young brain tumour patients.
The spirit of Meagan Bebenek Foundation is a combination of Denise’s personal experiences and mission, as well as her professional background.
In late 2000, Denise’s youngest child, Meagan, was diagnosed with an inoperable and malignant brain tumour. She died six months later, in June 2001, two weeks past her fifth birthday. As Denise left the hospital, she envisioned a hug encompassing the building, which inspired her to organize a five-kilometer walk and “hug” event.
Asking friends and family to help, Denise started planning for the first Meagan’s Walk event which took place on Mother’s Day 2002. The annual event, now known as Meagan’s HUG, culminates with participants joining hands and forming a human hug, a “circle of hope” around the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, sending a clear and simple message to all within - you are not alone.
Denise turned the tragic loss of her youngest daughter into a journey of hope and inspiration. With a deep-rooted belief that when we come together as a community we can make a collective difference, Denise has successfully harnessed that power for over two decades with a team of over 60 volunteers who work year-round to further the organization’s mission.
Today, Meagan Bebenek Foundation has grown into a thriving organization with multiple events, corporate sponsors, a robust school program, ‘Kids Helping Kids’ and an annual Crane Ceremony in which students present hand-made origami cranes to MBF Heroes. The foundation has raised more than $6 million dollars in support of paediatric brain tumour research, which includes funding for seed grants, purchasing cutting-edge equipment, funding for the Toronto Brain Tumour Network tissue bank and a Neuro-oncology fellowship program. This Fellowship is available to eligible candidates around the world and offers them the opportunity to further their clinical and research training in sub-specialties of paediatric oncology.
Denise is a musician, who deeply believes in the healing power of music. In 1991 she won the SOCAN New Talent Demo Award and in 2019 released the single “Love is a River a Song for Meagan’s Walk” featuring Kim Stockwood. In 2022, at the onset of the conflict in Ukraine, Denise was called upon by an international collaboration led by St. Jude’s to provide practical support to families arriving in Toronto to continue cancer treatment under the care of SickKids.
Denise has volunteered for the Women’s Executive Network’s and RevolutionHER mentoring programs and serves on the De La Salle College Board. As a sought-after speaker, she has shared her story and experience with several top 100 Canadian companies and is often called upon as a patient advocate with groups like the Paediatric Brain Tumour Foundation of America, and the International Brain Tumour Alliance’s World Summit for Brain Tumour Advocates.