Gretna family, non-profit, inspired by personal experience, create beacon of hope

This weekend’s Sugarplum Ball to raise thousands for pediatric cancer research
In September, 2017, six months after Ava Reinerts cancer diagnosis, Reinert hugs her mother, Amanda Reinert, at Sammys Superheroes Foundations Glow Gold event. Sammys Superheroes is another childhood cancer non-profit group who raises money for pediatric cancer research.
In September, 2017, six months after Ava Reinert’s cancer diagnosis, Reinert hugs her mother, Amanda Reinert, at Sammy’s Superheroes Foundation’s Glow Gold event. Sammy’s Superheroes is another childhood cancer non-profit group who raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Photo courtesy of Amanda Reinert

Since 2019, children battling childhood cancer have been invited to the Sugarplum Ball, a night of dancing, food and most importantly, forgetting all worries about cancer. This Ball was created by Ava’s Army, a nonprofit organization dedicated to pediatric leukemia research.

All dressed up and smiling, 2022 Sugarplum Ball attendees pose for a photo with princesses. (CK impressions Photography)

The fourth annual Ball will take place tomorrow at A View West Shores in Waterloo at from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The Ball is completely sold out. About 700 people will be in attendance. The funds from ticket sales will go toward pediatric leukemia research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

This magical night includes hundreds of girls of all ages, dressed up, dancing, having fun, enjoying food and not worrying about cancer. On top of the many activities for the children, there will also be a silent auction, in which proceeds will go to research as well.

The group that hosts the ball, Ava’s Army, was founded by Amanda Reinert in 2019 after her, at-the-time 6-year-old daughter, Ava, beat leukemia. Ava was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017 and had to undergo two and a half years of chemotherapy. After learning that Nebraska ranked 8th in the country for the highest number of pediatric leukemia cases as of 2018, according to the CDC, Amanda decided to make it her mission to spread awareness and find better treatment for children with leukemia.

“I was like, there has to be a better way,” Amanda said. “We have to find a better way to do this. I’ve told people, I’m either going to be around when we find that way, or I’m going to die trying because kids like her just deserve so much better than what they’re getting.”

Having to witness her little girl be so sick and go through so much tore Amanda Reinert apart.

“There was one specific moment when I was honestly just like, hell no, this is awful,” she said. “The nurse came in and her [Ava’s] port went straight to her heart, and she was pushing this chemo into her port, wearing this full hazmat suit. She was explaining to us that if Ava cried, we couldn’t wipe her tears because her tears would be too poisonous for us to touch. Any fluid that came from her body was too poisonous for anyone to touch. And I just remember thinking like, okay, so we’re allowing you to administer this to her heart every single day, but it’s so poisonous that it can’t touch my skin? As a parent, allowing someone to do that to your baby is really hard.”

After her 800-day battle, Ava beat cancer and has been in remission for 4 years. She is now a fifth grader at Whitetail Creek Elementary School.

“Two and a half years is an insanely long time and it almost just becomes normal,” Amanda said. “She was taking some form of chemotherapy every single day for two and a half years, so when they took her port out, it almost felt like there was something missing in our lives for a really long time. But it [her beating cancer] was a relief. It didn’t feel real for the longest time.”

On March 26, 2017, Ava Reinert plays with a toy her grandmother brought her while visiting her in the hospital. This was the day before the 4-year-old’s leukemia diagnosis. This photo is “my least favorite,” Ava’s mother, Amanda Reinert said. “She was so, so incredibly sick in that photo.” (Photo courtesy of Amanda Reinert)

Not only did the battle take a toll on Amanda, but it impacted Ava so much that it became the inspiration for Ava’s Army.

“I lost my hair, and I couldn’t even go outside because I could get really, really sick,” Ava said. “My family decided that there had to be another way, so we started Ava’s Army.”

Amanda said she founded the nonprofit to change the “awful” experience. To date, the foundation has raised over $300,000 for pediatric cancer research, with the Sugarplum Ball being their largest fundraising event of the year. And while the donation towards research is important to the Reinert family, the Sugarplum Ball means so much more to them.

“I saw what she went through and how horrifying it was,” Amanda said. “So to just be able to see these kids, especially the ones who are on chemotherapy now, get one night where they don’t have to have cancer– there are no needles and there are no meds, and they just get to dance and stuff their faces and just get to be kids, it’s really special.”

The night, filled with glitter and the carefree smiles of the kids, is something that resonates with all who attend.

“These families, afterward, say things to us like, ‘This is our new family tradition,’ or ‘This is the most we’ve seen her smile in two years,’” Amanda said. “Those things mean a lot, so even though it’s so much work, it is all worth it when you hear things like that.”

Amanda is the driving force behind the event. She is in charge of planning and decorating and even assembles games and prizes by hand at her house. However, she is not alone, there is a board of 12 people and many more sponsors who help with the events Ava’s Army puts on, including the Sugarplum Ball.

Sponsors, such as Kona Ice, Horizon Bank, and Iron Heaven Gym, donate money to pay for the event so that all proceeds from ticket sales and the silent auction can go directly towards research.

“That’s always been really important to us,” Amanda said. “When people spend their hard-earned money at the ball, we can tell them that their money is going towards research. This year, we raised about $70,000 in sponsors, a lot of that came from our board.”

At the 2017 Glow Gold event for Sammy’s Superheroes, Ava Reinert poses for a photo with her parents, Amanda Reinert and Brady Reinert. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Reinert)

Amanda isn’t the only one with a big job to do for the ball; 11-year-old Ava will give a speech at the event.

“Sometimes it’s hard because I have to be in two places at once, but it’s the most magical experience,” Ava said. “I love seeing my friends and having fun, and taking selfies and seeing Santa, and getting all the princesses, and definitely the dancing part because I love dancing to the Taylor Swift songs. I go all night.”

In its inaugural year, the Ball raised $15,000. Since then, Ava’s Army has grown, but the organization’s mission remains the same.

“We’re trying to tell people that, even if they survive, 75% of kids like her [Ava] will have life-threatening illnesses for the rest of their lives,” Amanda Reinert said. “The reality is that for her, just because she survived, it’s nowhere near over. We’re trying to fix that so that when kids do beat cancer, they can just be done. Because right now, when you beat cancer, that’s just the beginning.”

While leukemia is the most common form of pediatric cancer, even if a child survives it, they will have many side effects of the illness throughout their lives. According to the National Cancer Institute, 60% to more than 90% of them will develop a chronic health issue during adulthood because of the treatment they endured. Additionally, they say, 20% to 80% of them will experience life-threatening complications during adulthood.

After the ball, the group will move on to planning more events such as their second Color Run, which will be this June, but until then, the Reinert family and the rest of the Ava’s Army team are keeping their thoughts on tomorrow.

“Every single year at the ball, when I stand up on stage, I get emotional about it because there will be 700 people in one room on one night, all there to help us make things better for kids like her [Ava],” Amanda said.

To stay up to date with the events they host, to get involved or to support Ava’s Army, visit

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