Sprout Stories

How Helping Hearts uses poker to help pay for hospital bills

By David Threshie

They are here to play poker, have fun and help a friend with cancer.

The restaurant in Yorba Linda smells of pizza and beer. People are chatting and laughing, some just learning whether a royal flush beats a full house. (It does.)

Food tables become poker tables and some players are recruited to become dealers because no one expected so many generous people to turn out.

So many people, in fact, that a line forms at the door of Lamppost Pizza and stretches around the building. They are friends and family, and friends of friends, all gathered to help the Logans. Many carry gift baskets to be auctioned off. The event starts an hour late because all the parking is taken and people are walking from blocks away.

The crowd radiates love and joy, with an undercurrent of sadness because Donna Logan has been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer for the second time.

Donna just left for Duke University in North Carolina for experimental treatment for several months. And all these people want to help raise money for her husband, Matt, and three daughters, ages 6 to 14, to fly out to see her.

This gathering was held 10 years ago, but it was the seed that grew into Helping Hearts for Friends, a nonprofit that has raised a little more than $1 million to help people in the community with major illnesses or injuries.


Scott Fairfield, who played football in college with Matt Logan, organized the event with his wife, Mary, and Tina Devlin, another close friend who volunteered for the YMCA and knew a little more about fundraising than they did.

A police officer for 26 years, Fairfield has lived in Yorba Linda most of his life and is now a captain in the Bell Gardens Police Department. His wife is a part-time legal secretary. Devlin owned a beauty salon and now works for the home design company Houzz.

They didn’t make enough money to make a difference in the Logans’ life, Scott said. They had to figure out another way to do it.

At a YMCA charity auction, the Fairfields – who attended many such events long before they became event organizers – bid on and won everything you’d need for a poker tournament. The prize was so easy and fun that Mary came up with the idea to do a tournament to raise money for the Logans.

They set out to do just that and raised about $20,000. But they worked with a charity that charged fees that they thought were high and unfair. Scott’s gentle brown eyes turn steely as he remembers this; he has a shaved head and a policeman’s bushy mustache, and he can look formidable when displeased.

So they formed their own charitable group and registered it with the IRS so donations are deductible.

Helping Hearts for Friends founders Scott, left, and Mary Fairfield and Tina Devlin. The three are photographed inside the hallway of the Fairfield's home. Hanging on the walls are mementos of past fundraisers. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos, Contributing Photographer)

Helping Hearts for Friends founders Scott, left, and Mary Fairfield and Tina Devlin. The three are photographed inside the hallway of the Fairfield’s home. Hanging on the walls are mementos of past fundraisers. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos, Contributing Photographer)

It’s all run out of the Fairfields’ garage, which is piled so full of baskets and filing cabinets and things for events that they can’t park their cars in it.

The Fairfields, Devlin and Chris Hubner, another policeman, run the organization. No one gets paid.

“I wanted it to be unique so a person like me, who doesn’t have a lot of money, can make a difference,” Scott Fairfield said. “And the money goes directly to the person who needs it.” He tells donors to write the name of the family they want to help directly on the memo portion of the check.

At first, Matt Logan was reluctant to have his friends raise money for him. He didn’t want charity. Few people do.

“But I pointed out that the illness could go on for years, and Donna might not be able to go back to work full-time,” Scott said. Plus, it would be an opportunity for all the people who really wanted to help to come together to have fun.

Logan gave in.

“If you are really poor, and you get into financial difficulties because of illness or injury, the government helps out,” Scott Fairfield said. “If you are rich, you can afford to pay for your care.

“But if you are middle class – even if you get better – you don’t recover financially.”

The Logans’ friends and family and students and sports teams turned out to help. That became the model for future fundraisers.


Donna died in 2007. Her children are in college and graduate programs. Matt remarried this year.

Since Donna’s passing, Helping Hearts has held many memorial fundraisers in her honor to benefit other families.

“Scott and I had a bunch of friends who came to the first event,” Devlin said. “They said, ‘If you do another event, we are in.’ Others came to us saying, ‘We know a family who needs help. Can you help us do a fundraiser?’ We had a great momentum of people wanting to help families.”

The organization doesn’t advertise. Most of the beneficiaries are referred by other people who have been helped, or by friends and colleagues.

The sponsor of the family fills out a form, giving details about the situation and the family’s finances and what sort of help they need. It can range from buying a computer for a child whose father was injured to paying a mortgage.

The friends on the board are so close that they usually don’t need a formal meeting. They run into one another and chat or handle the requests by phone call or email. They have an accountant help them with tax returns and profit and loss reports, as well as other forms required by the IRS and the state Attorney General’s Office.

The group pays expenses directly so donors know where the money is going. How do they determine that the bills are legit?

“Most of the bills we pay are hospital bills,” Scott Fairfield said.

“Our goal is to take their focus off paying bills so they can focus on getting better or focus on taking care of their family.”

The Fairfield and Devlin children have worked the events since they were small. Bradley Fairfield, now in medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said that watching his dad using his talents to help others had an influence on his becoming a doctor.

“To watch someone doing really good things inspired me to do what I’m good at to help,” he said. “Being able to help someone makes you feel good.”

Because of their track record in the community, the National Charity League of Yorba Linda made Helping Hearts the beneficiary of its annual fashion show fundraiser and presented the group with a $63,000 check. This created a general fund, enough to help with funeral costs or an emergency medical bill. The group also makes donations for other charities’ events and causes.

The organization is so small, and the funding so limited, that it occasionally has to turn people away, something Scott Fairfield and Devlin hate to do. He’s afraid publicity might bring them more need than they can handle.

“We wish we could help everybody,” Devlin said. “Sometimes it is not a good fit – the family doesn’t want to be involved or they are embarrassed, which I understand completely.”

Part of Fairfield is weary of the whole enterprise. It’s hard to be a police officer in this day and time, he said. And it’s hard to run a small nonprofit. Especially when some of the people you are trying to help end up dying.

“A lot of the time, it’s a pain in the ass,” he said.

“And then you meet these amazing families.”

Which brings us to the Zavalas.

The Zavala family received help from Helping Hearts for Friends when Junior Zavala was battling cancer. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos, Contributing Photographer)

The Zavala family received help from Helping Hearts for Friends when Junior Zavala was battling cancer. (Photo by Miguel Vasconcellos, Contributing Photographer)


Junior Zavala, a 43-year-old construction worker, husband and father of three boys, had a cold that wouldn’t go away. And then one day, as he was installing a mirror, his back felt as if someone was driving an icepick into it.

He went to a doctor about the cold. Just as an aside, he said, “Oh, and Doc, I’m also having back pain.”

That day everything changed.

The pain in his back was multiple myeloma, a cancer that kills bone marrow and red blood cells. Myeloma cells also interfere with cells that break down old bone and lay down new bone, making the bones weak so they break easily.

Zavala’s bones became so fragile that he ended up with eight broken vertebrae and constant pain.

That led to six months of chemo, bone marrow biopsies, stem cell transplants and hospitalization at City of Hope. As cancer and treatment ravaged his body, he was unable to work.

His wife, Danielle, 42, a kindergarten teacher, couldn’t keep the family afloat.

So Fairfield, Devlin and all of the friends stepped in.

“Without Helping Hearts, I don’t know where we would be now,” Junior Zavala said.

The group did an email drive requesting donations and then held a golf tournament to raise money for the family.

The Zavalas knew Helping Hearts well. They had attended and contributed to nearly all of the group’s fundraisers for the past 10 years.

“We sat on the other side of the table many times,” Junior said. Still, it was hard for them to accept help. The day of the fundraiser was excruciating.

But Junior’s friends persuaded him.

“My friend said, ‘Look, buddy, we know you are proud. But you’ve helped out in the past, so let us help you.’”

He is back to coaching. He can’t swing a bat or throw a ball at this point, but he can still encourage the kids from the sidelines.

“Baseball is a good lesson on life,” he says. “I teach the kids to face their fears and try. Just by trying, you will be a winner.”

Zavala’s mother died when he was 16, and his father died when he was 18, leaving Junior to raise his 4-year-old sister.

Even during the really bad days, when he was at his lowest, he was determined to make it, so his sons wouldn’t have to grow up without a father.

“You see them fight so hard,” Scott Fairfield said. “And it makes it all worth it. It’s good to help them keep their house, keep the boys in their home.”

Helping Hearts for Friends is not all Fairfield does. He and his classmates raised $7,000 for scholarships at El Dorado High, a gift from the class of 1985.

For the past 25 years, he has organized a Christmas toy giveaway in Bell Gardens, where he works. He gets Bell Gardens police officers, city employees and Yorba Linda families to adopt families who work hard but struggle to make ends meet, especially during the holiday season. He wants kids who live comfortably to experience the joy of making a difference.

He is in the midst of organizing the Donna Logan Memorial Texas Hold’em and Dinner on Saturday. A recipient will be the sister of one of Fairfield’s police colleagues, Julie Cibrain, a 33-year-old mother of three young girls who is battling breast cancer.

Matt Logan plans to be there. So does Junior Zavala. And he says many family members and friends and the parents of all the kids who still call him Coach Junior will be there, too.

It will be another night of friends helping friends.


To donate, or to find out more about Helping Hearts for Friends, please visit their website at helpinghearts4friends.org