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Kara Anderson cleans with a meaning for sick children

Editor’s note: This article was a finalist for the America Inspired Contest, which celebrated extraordinary people making a difference across the United States. We invite you to read about these amazing people.

Kara Anderson in the hospital showing off her treatment drugs.
Kara Anderson in the hospital showing off her treatment drugs.
Kara Anderson
Kara Anderson, founder of Cleaning with a Meaning, and her family.
Kara Anderson

“Dear Cleaning with a Meaning,

My eight-year-old daughter, Jaelyn, was born with a lung and pancreatic disease called Cystic Fibrosis. This causes her internal organs to become riddled with mucus, which causes infection; they eventually shut down and can lead to premature death. She has several infections as we speak and could possibly be hospitalized at any time. We were hoping to have the entire house disinfected as soon as possible to cut down on germ transfer and possibly eliminate the lung infections she has had. Thank you for your time and support.” Jessica Day, Jacksonville, Florida

While this might not be the typical request submitted to most cleaning services, it’s exactly the kind of client that Kara Anderson welcomes.

Anderson runs Cleaning with a Meaning, a Jacksonville, Fla. based non-profit that provides free maid service from local cleaning companies in cities across the country to families of children diagnosed with a serious illness.

It is not only a service but also a passion that comes from personal experience: Anderson was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 27, 2009. Prior to that, she was focused on building her for-profit cleaning service, Maids on the Run.

“Of course, the first question you ask is, ‘Why me?’” said Anderson, who was 39 when first diagnosed, “But after that little pity party, and after I felt better about all of the practical stuff like knowing that my husband’s there to run the business and take care of the kids, I just wanted to help other people going through similar things.”

She didn’t know exactly what that meant until she received an email requesting a prayer for a 7-year-old girl diagnosed with brain cancer.

“I figured, we had a cleaning company and we can help in this way. I have the ability, I have the supplies and I know the difference something like this can make,” said Anderson.

She reached out to the little girl’s family, but got no response. “I don’t know what ever happened to her,” said Anderson, “But that was the start of Cleaning with a Meaning, in spirit anyway.”

She cleaned several homes free of charge before officially beginning Cleaning with a Meaning in February 2010. “There’s no shortage of people who need this service,” Anderson pointed out.

“Dear Cleaning with a Meaning,

My 2-year-old daughter is on her fourth chemotherapy. We are traveling six hours round trip to get the first treatment each week. Then we have home healthcare (mom) finish her last three doses weekly. My 4-year-old son is non-verbal/PDD-NOS.” [Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, sometimes called “atypical autism”] - Vincennes, Indiana

When Anderson learns of a family in need, she seeks a local cleaning company willing to donate their services. Cleaning with a Meaning monitors the service and Anderson follows up on every job within 24 hours.

In Jacksonville, Maids on the Run is the only company currently delivering service, but there are 37 companies in 19 states (plus two in Canada) that have joined Cleaning with a Meaning. All are licensed and insured.

The biggest challenge so far has been finding enough providers to fulfill the need.

“I sent out 500 emails soliciting companies nationwide, including Jacksonville, to join us,” shared Anderson, “Zero responded. Everyone asks, ‘What’s in it for us?’”

This type of thinking confounds her. “I mean, you’ll get marketing at some point – nobody is going to brag about your business better than someone you’ve helped – but isn’t just the joy of helping families enough?”

“Dear Cleaning with a Meaning,

My son is 8 and has Trisomy 18. He is in a wheelchair and has a feeding tube and is on monitors that let me know when he is breathing at all times. Any help would be great.” - Baxter, Minnesota

To date, Cleaning with a Meaning has helped 23 families in Jacksonville and 50 nationwide, from one time cleanings to the extended service of four.

Some families connect through the Cleaning with a Meaning website or Facebook page; others are referred by friends, family, church groups or the occasional hospital. Sometimes, Anderson hears about a family through word of mouth or via news stories and she initiates contact.

Either way, the gratitude is overwhelming.

“It’s the best gift in the world,” said Sarah Starr, whose 11-year-old daughter, Courtney, was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at birth. “It took such a burden off of us. That little time that we do have where she’s not doing therapy or not at school; it’s just a little bit more time we can spend together.”

Jessica Day, mother of Jaelyn, the girl mentioned in the letter beginning this story, sees Cleaning with a Meaning as a rare respite from dealing with health insurance companies and medical providers who often say, “No.”

“In a life where you’re battling so many things, it’s a welcome feeling to have somebody there for you, no strings attached,” she said. “They were effortless.”

Effortless is how Anderson wants it to be.

“We want to unload the burden of housekeeping during that time that is so stressful and unknown. We want them to be able to focus on the kids,” she said.

“Dear Cleaning with a Meaning,

As a mother of a child who is surviving cancer – two years free – I was in a state of walking, talking, trance; scared every second, weak with fear… Every second of everyday I wished I had about 2 hours to RUN AWAY and just cry and pound on something to release the emotions a parent must hide for the kids sake to be strong and go on as Mom... It never showed up; there was never that moment…What you’re offering and doing is AMAZING. I am proud to know you; I am here to help.” - Kim, Facebook

Read more about Kara here, including a little about what motivates her and how she will use the money if she wins the $50,000 America Inspired contest! Read about the National Pink Tie Organization's endorsement of Kara here.

Follow Cleaning with a Meaning on their Facebook page at or get more information at their website,


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