Denise Rebenek headshot

The hug that changed the world with Denise Bebenek

Céline Williams |

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 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-kilometre 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.

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