Kimberley Diemond

Kimberley Diemond poses for a portrait at Stonewall Farm in Keene, where she serves on the board.

In 2009, Kimberley Diemond was hit with devastating news: Your mother has terminal cancer.

The liver cancer was inoperable, and though her mother tried chemotherapy, it didn't work. Only two months after being diagnosed, Joy Diemond Herrick died at 57.

"It was a whirlwind," said Diemond, 48, of West Chesterfield. "We were originally thinking she had an operable tumor that wasn't cancer; that was the suspicion. And then it quickly turned into 'these are my last moments with [her]'."

In her final months, Herrick was unable to work because she was too sick, but Diemond said she wasn't eligible for benefit programs in the short term.

Diemond tried to contact legislatures to get the social security laws changed, she recalled, but realized quickly "that was a very daunting task and probably wouldn't be able to happen in a lifetime."

But rather than be immobilized by her grief, Diemond decided to find a way to honor her mother's memory. By December 2009, she and her sister, Michelle Potter, started making care baskets for cancer patients, using materials left over from their mother's fruit basket business.

Kimberley Diemond is the winner of a 2021 Extraordinary Women award. Video by Cecily Weisburgh / Sentinel Staff. Music: www.bensound.com

"I was inspired by what was already going on with my family, trying to find resources for my mom," she said, "and ... I learned really fast what it was like to be a family member, a loved one, of someone with a dire diagnosis."

That January, Diemond — who is the executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Vermont — had incorporated the effort as the nonprofit Joy's Network.

"I wanted to turn a very negative and very sad situation into something good in the world," she said.

The volunteer-run network serves Cheshire County and the bordering towns in Sullivan and Hillsborough counties and will help any residents with cancer, regardless of their age or type of cancer.

This was important to Diemond because her mother's cancer type was one of the reasons she didn't qualify for assistance.

"We understand a cancer diagnosis is a cancer diagnosis," she said.

Over the years, Joy's Network has delivered hundreds of gift baskets, from home deliveries to drop-offs at Cheshire Medical Center's Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Keene.

Generally, the baskets include comfort items, such as candles, lotions, notecards, puzzles, books and snacks. 

The nonprofit also helps with a patient's expenses, whether through gas and grocery store gift cards or by paying off part of a medical bill. Up to $500 of assistance is available annually, Diemond said.

"We've helped with car repairs, health insurance premiums, heating, utilities, prescription costs. You name it," she said.

At the beginning, Diemond said the project started small, with volunteers working out of her home for the first year.

"I cooked brunch for everyone, and we formulated a plan," she recalled. " ... We very informally set that up, and — I lived in Marlborough at the time — so we worked with the local Daisy and Girl Scout troops to make a whole bunch of baskets."

Then, the operation became one of the first businesses at the Hannah Grimes Center in Keene, where it stayed for a few years before moving to its own office space on Washington Street.

Over the years, Diemond said she's learned a lot, such as how big an impact small gestures can make.

"Even at the beginning, when we could only give someone a $10 gas card, which I felt was nothing, the appreciation we got about just thinking about what somebody might need was amazing," she said.

And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Diemond said the network has been able to keep on giving.

Gift cards can be sent via mail or email if necessary, she said, and when the community's virus transmission has been low, volunteers have been able to deliver baskets in person while wearing masks.

"We haven't needed to turn anybody away," she said.

And Diemond's decade-long commitment to helping others hasn't gone unnoticed. 

She was nominated for The Sentinel's Extraordinary Women award by Julie Davenson, executive director of Stonewall Farm in Keene, where Diemond is a board member.

"She sees a problem and with crystal clarity is able to identify the root causes, is not afraid to ... speak out and seeks solutions to the problems bringing people together in a cause and vision of leaving each day better than the one before," Davenson said in an email. "She is a true example of an extraordinary [woman] doing so much with the the power of her spirit."

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.

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