In this day and age, turning a negative into a positive is definitely a reason to celebrate. This October, local nonprofit Support Connection is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first Support-A-Walk for Breast & Ovarian Cancer. This grassroots event today draws close to 10,000 participants, and laid the foundation for the organization itself, which opened its doors in the Roma Building in Yorktown Heights in September of 1996.
One of the driving forces behind Support Connection is Executive Director and Club Fit member Kathy Quinn, who was inspired to get involved after attending that first walk in 1995 in support of a close friend who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She found out about the walk while researching support services for her friend, and was moved by the turnout, which quadrupled the expected numbers from 200 to 800. She reached out to walk organizers Nancy Heller and Rich Adamski, and together with other supporters came up with the idea to use the funds raised to start up Support Connection as an educational and emotional resource for breast and ovarian cancer patients. The rest is history. “The unique thing about our organization’s model is that all of our professional Peer Counselors are cancer survivors,” says Kathy. “When we began, our idea was to give patients access to others who had gone through the same experience, and could truly understand their situation.” Support Connection has stayed true to that model to this day.
“Because we work very hard to operate within a very modest budget and use volunteers to assist with fundraising and outreach, nearly 90 percent of all funds raised goes directly to funding our free, confidential programs and services. I am blessed every day to see what a difference is being made, how a difficult situation can be helped by offering an anchor to someone in need.” Today, the number of support groups has grown to twelve, and services are offered nationwide. What started as a local resource is now an educational and emotional support system for thousands, with well over 5,000 people benefitting from the services offered to date. In our area, many take advantage of the one-on-one and group counseling, wellness seminars, toll-free educational teleconferences, and social workshops offered, including a yoga class held on Saturdays at Club Fit Jefferson Valley, for which Club Fit donates space.
“Club Fit has been a staunch supporter for many years, also sponsoring our golf outing,” says Kathy. “It’s really wonderful how they promote good overall health throughout our community, to all populations and age groups. Our survival is based on the support we get from local individuals and businesses like Club Fit.” Kathy, a Shrub Oak resident, is passionate about Support Connection’s mission, often working nights and weekends. “It’s so rewarding to see the end product of the work we do,” she says. “I come back every day for that reason.” She also devotes time to her husband, four children and two grandchildren, and tries to take time to take care of herself, using the Fitness Center and Aquatics Center at Club Fit. “I now understand the value of places like Club Fit, not just for the cancer patient, but also for the entire family,” she says. “Going to the gym is a step in the right direction for anyone physically, but it’s also a great stress reliever for those either going through or supporting a family member or friend going through cancer treatments.”
As successful as Support Connection has been, there is still much work to be done. “Our ongoing challenge is that while people value the support we provide, they don’t put a dollar amount on it,” says Kathy. “So much of the money that is raised in other nonprofits is used to fund research, but the emotional support our programs provide is also so critical in a cancer patient’s journey.” Kathy’s friend Isabel, who was the reason for Kathy attending that first walk, passed away not long after Support Connection was established, but Kathy considers her the inspiration that keeps her going. “Every day I work in loving memory of Isabel,” she says. And at every walk, the thousands of participants and volunteers are working and walking to honor those who have won as well as those who have lost the battle against breast and ovarian cancer.
For more information on how you can get involved or how you can access the services offered by Support Connection, visit www.supportconnection.org, or call the Support and Information Hotline at 1-800-532-4290. You can also register for or make a donation to this year’s Support-A-Walk, to be held at FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights on Sunday, October 5th, on the website. If you have never attended, Kathy highly recommends that you come, if just to experience the camaraderie. “As big as our event has become, the wonderful thing about it is that we are all there as one big family, celebrating and paying tribute to loved ones and letting people dealing with cancer know we are walking right beside them.”