Julie Vernon didn’t understand the information in front of her, or maybe she just didn’t want to. The email from her radiologist was full of scientific jargon and MRI scans, but one thing stood out: vestibular schwannoma, a brain tumor.
“It was like the world dropped away,” Vernon says. “Everything just went silent. It was that moment when all of your greatest fears are true. I mean, how do you proceed?”
Julie and her husband Ben own Crooked Tooth Brewing, a cozy brewery specializing in the different and unique. Beyond their specialty IPAs and sour beers, Julie occasionally mixes in her passion for yoga and meditation, teaching classes for the Tucson community out of Crooked Tooth.
The brewery was less than two years old when the diagnosis hit in April 2018, casting their business, their home and their family into the unknown. When Julie and Ben first found out, they sat on their porch for two hours without speaking.
Vernon met with her doctor, and decided to wait and see how her health progressed, though the symptoms began to worsen.
“I tried to hide it for a few weeks,” Vernon says. “But I’m not good at hiding things.”
In May, Vernon posted about her situation on social media. And although some of her messages contained her usual calm, positive outlook, others were more worried. In those initial days, she meditated to stay hopeful, but the silence fused with stress.
The diagnosis came out of the blue, but so did an outpouring of support from the community. Local breweries, artists, businesses and bands all helped raise funds for the Vernons.
“I had no idea they were even doing it,” Vernon says. “It just kinda spread around, and one by one they all started fundraising. The brewing community is so amazing. We are colleagues, but we’re also friends.”
In total, Vernon lists 355 people who helped, either by orchestrating fundraisers or donating to a GoFundMe, including seven breweries: Public Brewhouse, Harbottle Brewing, Barrio Brewing, Button Brewhouse, the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild and even Phoenix-based breweries O.H.S.O. Brewing, 12 West Brewing, and The Beer Research Institute. But these are only the breweries that formally supported as organizations—Vernon says individuals from essentially every brewery in Tucson reached out to help.
“The brewing culture in Tucson is amazing,” Vernon says. “Beer people are amazing people. There’s a lot of huggers, a lot of passionate people. Tucson itself has such a deep-rooted creative energy to it, and that love spreads... Beer is a beautiful thing because it brings the community together, and I think because it’s a community-strengthening thing, the passion put into it flows into others.”
Seven non-brewery Tucson businesses also helped, including Tap & Bottle, Barrio Bread, Kingfisher Bar & Grill and Pop Cycle.
“We knew a lot of our artists were good friends with Julie,” says Libby Tobey, co-owner of Pop Cycle, an art store specializing in handmade goods mostly made from recycled materials. “We figured we could donate, but we thought we’d help more by doing a show.”
Pop Cycle hosted a fundraising show which turned into a continuous sale, where a portion of each artwork sold was donated to Vernon’s medical bills. To help with fundraising, independent artists also sold specialty jewelry and T-shirts, bands performed benefit shows and Barrio Bread even baked pay-what-you-want loaves.
“It was amazing.” Vernon says. “Some people were paying 50 dollars for a loaf of bread.”
Stores around Fourth Avenue and beyond filled with “Tucson Loves Julie” shirts, specialty beers where a portion of each sale was donated, and more.
“It was really beautiful how easy it came together,” Tobey says. “Julie is super loving and so compassionate. She’s just with you in the moment. I don’t know how she does it.”
Besides local business fundraisers, Vernon’s close friend Alaina Chapin started a GoFundMe titled “HELP JULIE KICK BRAIN TUMOR ASS.” More than 250 people from Tucson and beyond donated, surpassing the initial goal of $15,000.
“The GoFundMe started in July, and that is when it was starting to get really real. The symptoms were worsening and it was close to my surgery,” Vernon says. “Alaina asked for my permission to start it, but I know she was going to do it either way. I was so humbled and grateful. She put something into action I never would have been able to do myself.”
Chapin suffered from the same type of tumor as Vernon a few years prior, also having a friend start a GoFundMe at that time for her medical bills.
“I told Julie, ‘This is going to feel weird, and you’re not going to want to ask for help, but people do want to help,’” Chapin says. “This is how people want to show they love you. It’s probably the biggest gesture the community has to show how much they care about you.”
Before even starting the campaign, Chapin knew they’d reach their goal. In fact, donations continually poured in after they reached the goal, and the Vernons requested the GoFundMe to be closed off.
“She’s so loved, people would just keep giving,” Chapin says. “Doing good is contagious. And that’s how Julie is. People give because they know she’d do the same for them.”
Vernon underwent surgery in August, and although it was successful, the process resulted in its own complications. She lost her internal equilibrium and her hearing in one ear.
“The healing process is long,” Vernon says. “I essentially had to relearn to walk.”
While it was the community that helped Vernon with finances and emotional support, it was Vernon’s personal challenge to heal. The surgery complicated her ability to practice two of her passions; tinnitus in her ear made quiet meditation near impossible, and a lack of balance stopped her from practicing yoga for weeks after the surgery.
Luckily, it was those same things the surgery nearly destroyed which helped her through the recovery process. “They definitely helped with my sanity. Yoga and meditation gave me that sense of centeredness.” Vernon says. “I found a strength in myself that I never imagined.”
Although Crooked Tooth founded their business with charitable events in mind, the community support made Vernon all the more passionate about giving back to those less fortunate. Soon after her surgery, Crooked Tooth began a recurring monthly event, “Giving Back Sundays,” where they accept donations for local charities, such as food and clothes.
“It shook me when I realized how capable we are,” Vernon says. “I saw the capacity we all had to come together and help each other. It’s so important and easily done. I don’t think we understand how powerful the little things are.”
Vernon still has healing to do, though according to her most recent check up, all is going according to plan. She says she always knew Tucson breweries and businesses contained a strong sense of community, but this process proved that fact more than anything else she’s seen.
“Ultimately it saved Crooked Tooth, and it saved my home.” Vernon says. “If you look at what they did for me, you’ll see, it’s all the little things that turn into really big, beautiful things. I think that’s how real change can happen. That’s what community is about—helping each other.”