Life’s Better Together founder shares experiences in changing other people’s lives

Danette Idlett hugs her son Evan Neel, 10, after spending some time in the boys’ bedroom before they went to bed on Wednesday, September 26, 2018 . Idlette co-founded Life’s Better Together in memory of Aaron Neel, Evan’s father, their portrait together hangs above his bed. Aaron died of a rare lymphoma at age 35.

Mark Webster Jr.

From selling insurance full-time to starting a nonprofit, Danette Idlett’s mission has always been close to her heart. 

Idlett, along with groups of family and friends, formed the organization in 2015 with her husband Matt. Its goal is to work together to provide direct financial assistance to families— parents and children—battling ongoing illnesses. 

Idlett said a series of life events put her on her journey to Life’s Better Together. 

Idlett’s first husband, Aaron, received a rare diagnosis of Cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma cancer when their son was only 2 years old. Idlett said upon learning of Aaron’s condition, they were told it could be a very non-invasive case. She said they were told he could live a long and healthy life with only minor complications along the way. 

After a year of severe infections and embarking on lengthy radiation and chemotherapy plans, Idlett said they made the decision to move closer to family to get help with their young son. 

A few years after receiving the diagnosis and going through invasive chemotherapy, full-body radiation and treatments, Idlett said they were told to call Hospice care and that her husband wouldn’t survive. He died in 2011.

“It was tough at the time, but I knew I had to be strong for my child,” Idlett said. 

Idlett said that during the turmoil, she felt lucky to be surrounded by a supportive family who could help with doctor’s appointments, treatments and babysitting while they spent lengthy days in the hospital.

“It wasn’t about how we would manage to get money for our son, we just knew it would all work its way out,” Idlett said. 

In 2012, Idlett and her second husband, Matt, found themselves at a fundraiser an hour south of their hometown. They said they thought it was for a local arts program, but it actually was a large group of families who had come together each Christmas for the past decade to watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” 

Idlett said the group pooled their money together and found local families they could donate to so they could assist in their financial stresses while their child was busy battling an ongoing illness. 

“Every event we do, we try to make sure it has importance to what our overall cause is,” Idlett said. 

No  matter what the situation is, Matt is by his wife’s side. 

“I believe in giving back to a bigger cause,” Matt said. “I supported the decision my wife made because I was dedicated to have her back.”

Since starting Life’s Better Together on 2015, Idlett said the relationship she built with a volunteer brought tears to her eyes. Shonda Tibbs, a single mother of four, benefitted from the organization. 

Tibbs put herself through college to become a licensed social worker. It was her dream career until she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which is considered to be the worst kind. 

She said the chemo she had to endure for treatment had terrible side effects, and she had a heart condition prior to the treatments. The doctor planned on giving her a total of eight treatments. 

Tibbs said she truly felt there was no other way to survive other than quitting chemo treatment.

“I couldn’t be sick, work, pay bills, run kids and continue to regimen,” Tibbs said.

Idlett said she knew this wasn’t the path Tibbs should take.

“I finally got her to trust us and Life’s Better Together,” Idlett said. 

Through the organization, they devised a plan where Tibbs could take time off from work to finish treatments. She said this allowed her to concentrate on getting better so she could go back to work and more importantly be there for her kids. 

“Shonda now volunteers with us and is one of my closest friends and confidants,” Idlett said. 

Idlett said she contacted Tibbs very often for advice and help with dealing with families. After a year of treatment, reconstructive surgery and a pacemaker, Tibbs passed her test and became a licensed social worker. 

Savannah Willis, 17, is another example of the work Idlett and Life’s Better Together do for the community. On Wednesday, Sept. 26th, Willis had the experience of a lifetime. Idlett selected Willis and gave her a Ford Five Hundred, donated by St. Vincent De Paul. 

“It caught me off guard,” Willis said. “I knew something was up when she walked through my front door.”

Willis’ mother Melissa has ovarian cancer. She received help from the organization last year with bills and food. Doctors said it was not getting better, but it’s not getting worse.

“With both of my parents having a disability, I needed ways to get around,” Willis said. 

Melissa is happy for her daughter and believes the vehicle can continue to allow her to do all the great things she wants to accomplish. 

“She is my rock,”  Melissa said. 

Idlett, with the help of her organization, said she is making sure Willis is able to get all the necessary information for her to pass her driving test. 

Willis said Idlett’s acts of kindness inspired her to give back to the homeless, and do different drives that will benefit her in the long run.  

Features reporter Mark Webster Jr. can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on social media at @mwebster68.