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Why We Give: The Wood Family

January 7, 2022

Tom Wood’s legacy in central Indiana extends far beyond the auto dealerships bearing his name. By generously supporting pediatric research at Riley Hospital for Children, the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation is making hope a reality for sick kids in Indiana and around the world.

Before he died of lung cancer in 2010, Tom and his wife Julie talked about starting a family foundation as another way to contribute to their community. Julie, who was married to Tom for 51 years, is now carrying out their vision with their son Jeff and daughter-in-law April.

“Tom’s whole philosophy was giving back to the community that made our family successful,” Julie said. “It’s a big mission on our part to give back; it’s a responsibility we all share.”

Nearly a decade ago, the Wood family learned about the powerful collaboration between Riley Hospital for Children and the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research.

When Wells Center investigators make an important discovery, they partner with physicians at Riley to launch clinical trials – the next stage of research that allows new therapies to be offered to patients under careful guidelines to determine if they are safe and effective. This allows scientific breakthroughs to move from the laboratory to the patient care setting.

But even the most promising studies cannot move forward without support. Since 2013, the Wood Family Foundation has partnered with Riley to propel medical discoveries through bridge funding initiatives. Bridge funding sustains research projects during lapses in grant funding that might otherwise shut down an investigation.

“Through Riley we are able to fund this important research,” Julie said. “The people we’ve worked with are so enthusiastic about what they do and excited when they find success, and we’re able to share in that.”

Bridge funding also leverages results and ensures scientific momentum. Fueled by generous support from donors like the Wood family, the pediatrics research program at Riley Hospital for Children continues to grow in impact and national prestige. In 2020, the program was ranked sixth in the nation in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“We’ve seen incredible results from all the doctors involved with the Wells Center,” April said. “We’ve seen so many of their grants and research be approved and go to the next level or be fully funded by the NIH. Riley is doing cutting-edge research that is going to benefit people for decades to come.”

The Wood family encourages others to join them in supporting pediatric research at Riley, where talented doctors, nurses, researchers and staff are making progress to help children with life-altering and life-threatening conditions.

“It’s really exciting and wonderful for our community,” Julie said. “If your heart is in your community, that’s where you want your money to go.”

The recently established Wood Family Bridge Fund for Emerging Therapies is another avenue to provide researchers with the support they need to seek cures. Funding for emerging therapies provides essential resources to launch new clinical trials and support ongoing trials.

“The way the doctors are able to help some of the smaller diseases that get ignored and don’t get the big dollars, it’s impressive and very gratifying,” Jeff said. “It seems like we pick the right people to give to, and they are making the most of it and getting results.”

Researchers funded through the Wood Family Foundation are finding new targets for treatment, discovering pathways to prevention and testing new therapeutics. And while the Wood family began its philanthropy with cancer research, its support has now expanded to serve many types of pediatric research.

“It’s a blessing and a privilege,” Julie said. “We just hope we can save as many lives as possible.”