Create & Cultivate 100: Philanthropy: Jo Ann Thrailkill

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Jo Ann is Pablo's Mommy.

She’s also the co-founder of The Pablove Foundation.

When her youngest son Pablo was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer, Jo Ann and her then-husband Jeff Castelaz, set up a nonprofit. It was a way to move through the process. A way to deal with sadness. A way to focus their misfortune into something positive.

But in 2009, the Los Angeles mom and former music producer lost her youngest son, Pablo, to a battle with cancer. He was only 6. Dedicated to positively affecting the lives of children living with cancer, she’s managed to turn her heartbreak into healing.

The Pablove Foundation raises funds for cancer research and awards grants, educates families that are dealing with cancer, and importantly, improves the lives of children living with the disease by offering arts programs like their very successful Pablove Shutterbugs Program. By handing a camera to a child diagnosed with cancer, Shutterbugs gives kids a new way to view the world. 

One with hope and love. 

More from Jo Ann below. 

Name:  Jo Ann Thrailkill

Instagram Handle:  @jothrailkill

Business Instagram Handle: @pablovefoundation

Where do your drive and passion come from?

I can trace this back to a defining moment in my childhood. When I was in the 8th grade I had an awful teacher who told me that I wouldn’t amount to much in life. That I was a “loser” and when I spoke to defend myself she slapped me across the face. I think it was that exact point in time that I discovered “drive,” although I didn’t have the name for it at the time. As for passion - my personal experiences throughout life have fueled that in me. When I was first starting out in my career, I never would have predicted that a Pediatric Cancer nonprofit would become such a passion. The experiences that my family has been through have dictated this path for me, and now the work that we do at Pablove fills my heart.

Philanthropy means the "love of humanity." It's so beautiful and simple. What does it mean to you?

For me, philanthropy means to “Pablove One Another” – and I get to do that by creating a community that provides an expressive outlet for kids living with cancer and giving them a joyful, creative experience outside of the hospital setting; something that was not available to my son, Pablo, or our family when we were going through our childhood cancer journey.

How did you find yourself on this particular career journey?

My son, Pablo was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just before his 5th birthday. After 13 months of treatment, Pablo passed away - just 6 days after his 6th birthday. While we were in the throes of it all at CHLA, we set up a PayPal account called Pablove that was meant to raise money to help others in need. Shortly after Pablo passed away, we discovered that this account that our friends, family, and complete strangers had been contributing to had over $250,000 in it. Rather than donating that money to a single organization, I decided to invest my time and kick-start The Pablove Foundation. As someone that had been through the harrowing childhood cancer experience with my own child, I recognized that quality of life for children living with cancer is equally as important as finding a cure, which is how our dual mission came about. After Pablo passed away, we discovered hundreds of photos he had taken on our family’s phones, cameras, and computers. Finding these sweet gifts from Pablo made us realize how important creative self-expression was for him and that is what inspired Pablove Shutterbugs, a program where kids living with cancer could explore that part of themselves and just be kids. Our organization—The Pablove Foundation—fights childhood cancer with love through our dual mission of art and science.


Do you think you've found your true calling?

I have no idea! This is actually my 3rd act. I started in fashion retail with Esprit after college which got me to Los Angeles, transitioned to production and became a music video executive producer for over 15 years, and now... here I am! Being a founder and leader at a non-profit was not something that I would have envisioned for myself - after all, I often say that I fell into this line of work by accident because of what happened with me and my family. What I will say though, is that I am constantly using what I learned in my Esprit and Music Video production days as we work to launch Pablove into our next stage of growth… and make an even bigger difference for children and families living with cancer across the country. And I love my job!

Are there any fears associated with your work? If yes, what are they?

Yes. Always. As an organizational founder and CEO, I live with the fear of failure because there are so many children, families, and employees across the country that are relying on Pablove. Fear helps motivate - the important thing for me, is to not let it hold me back.

What's something you'd like people to know about your job that they probably don’t?

While there is a very serious side to the work we do, we keep things optimistic, and our day to day at Pablove HQ is super fun. We are a mighty team of 18 here in Hollywood and our only rule is that we must LAUGH at least every work day.

What about your career makes you feel the most complete?

The Pablove Foundation approaches childhood cancer in a very unique way. We serve this incredible community through art and science… by providing our Pablove Shutterbugs art education program AND by funding childhood cancer research. Our mission came full circle this year when our Pablove Shutterbugs funded a $50,000 seed grant to an incredible scientist studying the late effects of chemotherapy on a child’s heart. They did this by selling their art with 100% of the proceeds going directly to our research program. Seeing (and hearing) the Shutterbugs’ reactions when we told them that they had single-handedly funded a research seed grant with their print sales was a moment I will never forget. In that moment I felt the most complete in my career as a non-profit leader... when I can see that we are really making a difference.

If you had to trade jobs with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why?

Ha! I’ve always said that I would LOVE to be the musical guest booker for SNL. Can you think of a cooler job?

At what point in your life did you find the confidence to really take charge and become the woman you are today?

My son Grady has been my motivation and a consistent source of strength since the beginning of my career. When I was in my 20’s, I was a single Mom, struggling financially, and assisting an Executive Producer. I knew that I wanted to provide for my son and being in that moment with my first child gave me the reason and confidence to really push my career forward and grow into the Music Video Executive that I became. Being a single mother pushed me not only to be strong career women but to always prioritize family and have boundaries at work. When Grady needed me, I learned to put my work on pause, and that is something that continues to allow me to have a sustainable career.

What's the best advice you've ever been given? Or your favorite piece of #realtalk?

Growing up in New Orleans, manners were a big part of my upbringing. In high school, my speech and drama teacher, Mrs. Mock, taught me the importance of being articulate, being able to communicate with others in a professional way and ask for what I want. This is something I have carried with me throughout all the different iterations of my career. The ability to communicate is so valuable and has definitely helped me get to where I am today.

When you hit a big bump in the road, how do you find a new road?

I reach out to others. There is no shame in my asking for advice game. I call everyone all the time and talk things out/through and every which way.

What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day?

"Freedom” by George Michael and the Missy Elliot verse in “Heartbreaker” remix by Mariah Carey.

Photo Credit: @davisfactor

Hair & Makeup: @SmashboxCosmetics @TheGlamApp @TheOuai