The Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® began with the dedication of a small group of people looking to honor their late friend, Benita Blau Feurey and continue her work on breast cancer education.
A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Benita Feurey began her career in broadcasting in 1963 at WNDT-TV (now WNET-TV) Channel 13. Later, she worked as a reporter and producer at UPI Television and WNBC-TV New York. In 1981, Benita joined Good Housekeeping magazine as its Metropolitan editor. At the same time, she served as consumer affairs reporter for Long Island’s Cablevision News 12. In 1985, Benita received the VIP New Yorker Award for her work on behalf of the Child Care Action Campaign.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy in 1984, Benita devoted almost all of her time to The Amazonian Fund, which she founded and served as president until her death in August 1989. The name of the organization came from the myth that the Amazons, an all-female society of fierce warriors, supposedly cut off one breast to make shooting a bow and arrow easier. The Amazonian Fund was a non-profit organization aimed at giving women a fighting chance against breast cancer, using two important weapons: knowledge and early detection.
Benita felt strongly that early detection was the key to fighting breast cancer. Knowledge can’t stop anyone from getting cancer, but it can make women aware of symptoms so they can find cancer in its earliest stages. If a woman does develop breast cancer, knowledge will point the way to the many treatment options available today. The Amazonian Fund provided information about fighting breast cancer through self-examination and mammography, and sponsored seminars and lectures with medical specialists. Benita’s efforts on behalf of early breast cancer detection were recognized in March 1988, when she accepted an award from the Guttman Institute. Benita died of breast cancer at age 49 on August 2, 1989.
Following Benita Feurey’s funeral and memorial service, several friends got together to discuss how to continue her work on breast cancer education and early detection. The group included John Mack Carter, then Editor-In-Chief of Good Housekeeping magazine, and close friends, Lynne D. Abraham and Karen Borack. Lynne and Benita had met as reporters at United Press International when they were both recently out of school. Lynne had even been a bridesmaid in Benita’s wedding. Karen described Benita as being like “a big sister,” noting that Benita was the first person she had known who had spoken out about breast cancer. Karen had read about the then-Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Among his many connections, John Mack Carter knew Komen's founder, Nancy G. Brinker.
Melba Tolliver, a broadcaster at WNBC and another of Benita’s friends, was also part of this original group. She had recently given a presentation about breast cancer and had invited her colleague Linda Lopez to attend. Melba’s message was focused on the importance of awareness—at that time, many had an aversion to discussing breast cancer and this group’s mission was to encourage people to talk about the disease.
Together, they turned The Amazonian Fund into the Benita Feurey Fund. Their first event, the Benita Feurey Fund Seminar, was held on October 30, 1990 at the Mark Goodson Theatre in Manhattan. Melba and Lesta Summerfield Stacom, a childhood friend of Benita’s, welcomed the group. John Mack Carter introduced Nancy Brinker. Her speech was followed by a panel discussion with four medical experts. . At the same time, Nancy Brinker was trying to establish other Komen Race for the Cure® events outside of Dallas. Since many of Benita’s friends and colleagues had experience putting on events, the New York group decided to create a Race for the Cure in New York City, and, in order to further their goals, become affiliated with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Among the original founders/Board members of the New York Race for the Cure were:
John Mack Carter, President
Arthur Novell, Vice President
Melba Tolliver, Vice President
Lesta Summerfield Stacom, Secretary
Dina Chartouni, Treasurer
Nancy Brinker, Founding Chairman, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Lynne D. Abraham
Dr. Frederick Lukash, Medical Chair-Finance
Dr. Leslie Strong
The organization’s original Statement of Purpose document stated that the Benita Feurey Fund “strives to provide assistance to the women of New York, concentrating on the underserved of the inner city.” Its first objective was to offer free mammograms to those who could not afford them.
Because it was confusing to have an organization known by so many names—the Benita Feurey Fund, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the New York Race for the Cure—the New York affiliate changed its official name to match its signature fundraiser, calling itself the “New York Race for the Cure.” (It wasn’t until 2000 that all Komen affiliates adopted the Komen name and the Affiliate city as part of uniform branding policies. So the affiliate became known at the time as “The Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation” and referred to the New York Race for the Cure as its largest annual fundraising event.)
The first Race was held on October 13, 1991 and benefited "The Benita Feurey Fund, an affiliate of the Komen Foundation." This inaugural event was open only to women, as was the case for all Komen Races at the time. The Race was co-chaired by John Mack Carter and Lesta Summerfield Stacom and produced by the New York Road Runners Club.
Twenty-five hundred women participated in the 1991 Race, which raised $15,000. Volunteers proudly referred to the event as the “largest first-time event of its kind.” At that first Race for the Cure, Komen Greater NYC distributed pink ribbons to every breast cancer survivor and Race participant. (Pink was as the designated color for Komen National to promote awareness and its programs.) As of that year, the pink ribbon became the symbol for breast cancer awareness. In 2007, Komen National changed its branding and adopted a specially-designed pink ribbon shaped like a runner.
Among the sponsors for the inaugural 1991 Race for the Cure were: New York Daily News, New York Woman, Weight Watchers, Hearst Magazines, Multiples, St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, Episode, Women’s News, Bloomingdales, Cushman & Wakefield, National Association of Female Executives, Bennett X-Ray Corp., Napier, American Airlines/London, and WellCare Health Plans.
During the first year, the group organizing the Race met at the offices of an interior design firm. Much work also took place at Lesta Summerfield Stacom’s apartment. Thanks to John Mack Carter’s incredible support, beginning in year two the organization “lived” at the Good Housekeeping offices, using donated space. According to founding member Karen Borack, “There would be no Komen Greater NYC without John Mack Carter.” John Mack Carter approached Amy Barr, then head of the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI), because he wanted a woman to take over as the Race director. She agreed, having no idea what she was getting into. Funding from Hearst budgets (Good Housekeeping and GHI) got the Race off the ground. All of the Race files were kept in a single file drawer in the desk of Amy Barr’s assistant.
Everyone worked together and, according to Amy, “everyone knew someone who did something important.” For example, Nancy Smith, then at Young & Rubicam (now, VP, Global Media, Content, and Community at American Express), helped with marketing, brought in big sponsorships, and got Y&R to give them free office space when the time came to move out of the Good Housekeeping offices.
John Mack Carter and Amy Barr lobbied many people at Hearst to get involved, convincing different magazines to form teams and creating competitions among teams. Then, as they retained sponsors, they encouraged sponsors to form teams and the numbers in the Race started taking off. In 1994, Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her commitment to the cause was so great that she allowed herself to be put out to the media in order to increase awareness of breast cancer and the Race. There was much interest in the news that the director of the Race had breast cancer and Amy did many television and radio interviews that year.
All Race registration was done by phone—through the ideal phone number of 212-293-CURE, which is still used to this day. The New York Road Runners Club handled the Race logistics for the first two years. They were replaced for one year (the interim firm was not a success) and then they were re-hired in 1994. In 2006, the Affiliate hired LeadDog Marketing Group, which has handled the Race ever since. Amazingly, 1995 was the only year that it rained on Race day— 2 inches fell the morning of the race.
Long-time volunteers George Ann and Bill Garrison remembered one crazy pre-Race morning in the late 1990s at Madison Square Garden, where Advance Registration for the Race took place. A day or two before the Race, team captains would go to a designated location to get their team supplies. Typically, all t-shirts, bibs, and other materials would have been delivered and organized the night before. But this year, Luciano Pavarotti was performing at the pickup location at the Garden and so Komen staff had not been allowed to set up that previous night. When George Ann, Bill, and the other volunteers arrived that morning, expecting to see lines of team supplies nicely organized alphabetically, instead they found huge piles of boxes and bags and utter chaos. They got through the distribution that day, but a picture of the mess hangs in the Komen Greater NYC office today reminding everyone of the hard work sometimes required of volunteers.
In 1996, Komen New York Race for the Cure wanted to form a Teams Committee and encourage more teams (versus individuals) to run the Race. For the 1997 Race, they built a formal Teams Program and went from approximately 21 to 250 teams in two years, resulting in significant increases in the number of Race participants and also in revenue. To encourage teams, there were competitions for the largest hospital, corporate, and individual teams. The largest hospital teams received grants for their breast cancer divisions. There were barbeques and other events for team captains and incentives to becoming team captains. For example, each year team captains were given special hats to wear for the Race—these hats could not be purchased anywhere so it was a real privilege to have one. Ellen Mandel, who has spearheaded the hospital teams efforts since the beginning, is still working her magic on hospital teams to this present day.
Around this time, Freda McClean and Carole Hecht Chamberlin headed the Survivors’ Committee and worked closely with many women. They felt strongly that there should always be survivors on the Board, as these women would bring an entirely different perspective. Freda felt that “survivors were the heart of the Board.” They came up with the idea for a Survivors’ Photo at the Race. One year, after taking the picture on the steps overlooking Bethesda Fountain, Freda literally ran to the East Side to a photo store, waited for the picture to be developed and copied, and then rushed back to the Race to give copies to all of the survivors.
After September 11, 2001, the Race began to rebuild. The 2002 Race had just over 17,000 participants, about half the size of the record-holding 2000 Race. But each year’s Race has, by and large, steadily built on the previous year’s numbers to the point where the 2008 Race had 25,421 participants, including over 1,600 breast cancer survivors.
Race revenues have climbed steadily, too, from $2 million in 2002 to a record-setting $5.71 million in 2008.
At the first Race in 1991, Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller, wife of New York’s former governor, was the Honorary Chair and Mrs. David N. Dinkins, wife of New York City’s mayor, was the Honorary Co-Chair. This began the tradition of having the City’s First Lady be the Honorary Race Chair. This tradition lasted until Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg came into office in 2002. Since there was no First Lady, Mayor Bloomberg has been the Honorary Race Chair since then.
In 1994, Donna Hanover, the then-wife of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, became Honorary Race Chair. She had covered the race in 1992 as a journalist and then, as First Lady of the City of New York, she began volunteering her time with Komen Greater NYC. She met Lynne Abraham and Nancy Comer, whom she described as “magnificent women who were tenacious about the importance of breast cancer research and outreach.” Ms. Hanover recalled the tremendous commitment of the many Komen volunteers in a time when “women still whispered the term breast cancer. Surgery was physically devastating and the medical community wasn’t particularly concerned with its effects. Now, you go to the Race and it is stunning to see the sea of women and survivors,” she said. Ms. Hanover’s commitment to Komen Greater NYC has continued for more than 16 years. She participated as Honorary Race Chair for eight years, even after she left Gracie Mansion; hosted luncheons and dinners that helped Komen Greater NYC leadership network among other city and business leaders; and continues to support the organization today.
The Komen Greater NYC Board of Directors wanted to keep the Race an all-women’s event (except for male breast cancer survivors), and so it created ways to include men in other capacities. In 1993, it added Proud in the Crowd® for men and women who wanted to sign up and partake in everything but the 5K. In 1995, the Board had a heated discussion about allowing men to participate in the race, but voted 10-0 to keep it all women. The city had several other breast cancer organizations offering co-ed events, including Avon, Revlon, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; Board members felt that the Komen all-women Race was a real differentiator.
In 1997, Komen Greater NYC initiated “Three Miles of Men,”; an all-male cheering squad with NBC’s Al Roker as its celebrity chair. Jeff Berman and Ed Kallen were the first “Three Miles of Men” co-chairs. Equipped with their own distinctive caps and tiny megaphones, the men lined the Race course at mile markers. They called out support and encouragement to the walkers and runners throughout the 5K course. Still, the topic of making the Race co-ed was raised every year. Many men never felt that they were a true part of the event.
By 2003, many participants and volunteers felt that men should be allowed to run or walk in the Race. At that time, Komen Greater NYC was one of only two remaining women-only races in the entire Komen Affiliate network—the other was Peoria, where Nancy Brinker and her sister had grown up. This was clearly an emotional topic for the Board, several of whom still felt that an all-women’s Race distinguished this event from those of other organizations. After much discussion, the Board voted to allow men to participate in the 2003 Race.
In the 1990s, the Race grew and grew. Each year, someone would comment that the Race had reached a plateau, yet the numbers kept increasing: from 2,500 participants in 1991 to more than 10,000 in 1995 to nearly 33,000 in 2000. After the huge success of the 2000 Race, Komen Greater NYC was poised for its biggest year ever. The 2001 Race was scheduled for September 16, but the terrorist attacks of September 11 changed everything.
Following September 11, Henry Stern, New York City Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, actually wanted the Race to go on but there were no police available. Komen considered holding the event jointly with SHARE, a breast and ovarian cancer organization and Komen Greater NYC grantee, which had its own race/walk scheduled for the end of September. WNBC’s Jane Hansen, Komen Greater NYC’s celebrity chair, went on the air to say that the Race was cancelled for that week and that they were hoping to move it to September 30. Long-time volunteer George Ann Garrison recalls how chaotic that week was. “Just try calling a vendor to cancel an order for supplies when the phone system is not working!”
Komen Greater NYC’s sponsors were incredibly supportive. For the 2001 Race, Lincoln Mercury was the local presenting sponsor. They told Komen Greater NYC that it could keep the sponsorship money even though the Race had been canceled, and also wanted to know what else they could do. So, as the planning went on to merge with the SHARE event, Mary Beth Childs, Komen Greater NYC’s local Lincoln Mercury contact) said that she would “put it in the paper.” Komen assumed that this meant a mention on the auto ads page. Instead, the Lincoln Mercury dealers donated their full page ad in the New York Times to the Race—and they wanted no recognition for the donation.
However, at the last minute Komen Greater NYC and SHARE were unable to merge the two events. Jane Hansen made the official announcement on the air. The New York Times noted that “the Komen Affiliate struggled to find a way to carry on and hold the Race, before finally deciding it had to be canceled, because the anticipated crowd would have overwhelmed police and Parks Department resources.”
The entire Komen Greater NYC organization was astonished by the support they received from other Affiliates when the Race was canceled. As then-Board President Laraine Mancuso recalled, “Some of the other races in the country did some really special things for us. At its Pink Tie Ball, Denver auctioned off three red children’s fire engines, and sent us a check for $22,350. Scranton, a very small Race, held a fundraiser and sent $500. Portland, Oregon, whose Race was scheduled for the same day as Greater NYC, sent us a banner and about 40,000 index cards with handwritten notes from all their Race participants wishing us well and praying for the city. And Tulsa sent a 24-foot homemade banner signed by hundreds at their Race.”
The New York Race for the Cure founders began many traditions, the most important of which is the Annual Awards Luncheon. This event represented the fruits of all their labors: being able to present grantees with funding for their important work. Initially, this was held as a lavish luncheon at Gracie Mansion, hosted by Joyce Dinkins in 1993 (wife of then-Mayor David Dinkins). Starting in 1994, this tradition was assumed and solidified by Donna Hanover (wife of then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani). Grant recipients, sponsors, special guests, and breast cancer survivors were invited to this event, which was held in June to kick off the Race season. The key goals for the luncheon were to introduce the major sponsors to the grantees and to gain publicity; this was not a fundraising event. Later, to manage costs, the event was scaled back to an annual breakfast. And then, in 2003, the event was turned back into a luncheon and a fundraiser, and it is now held in May.
In 1994, the Empire State Building agreed to light up with pink lights during the week of the Race. Initially known as “The Pink Lights Brigade,” the event became “City in Pink®,” an annual event that salutes the Race by lighting New York City landmarks and skyscrapers in pink, the color of breast cancer activism. City in Pink is actually two things: an event to kick off Race Week and the lighting of many NYC buildings to promote breast cancer awareness and honor the memory of those who have lost their fight with the disease. The genesis of City in Pink, like so many other Komen Greater NYC initiatives, began with a very personal story. Long time volunteer and public relations committee chair Vivien Levy wrote a letter to the Empire State Building management office. Up until that time, the Empire State Building would only change its lights’ colors for national holidays or events, not for any individual organization. At the Empire State Building, Lydia Ruth was the Public Information Director and had had recent experience with her own mother’s breast cancer. So when Lydia received the letter, she was extremely supportive and worked to make this happen. City in Pink is also a cocktail reception for sponsors, supporters, and other Komen Greater NYC VIPs, which is usually held the Wednesday evening prior to the Race. The event has been held at different locations throughout the city, most recently at the Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center. Other Races/Affiliates in the U.S. have created similar programs following New York’s lead.
Celebrating and honoring breast cancer survivors has always been a major emphasis for Komen Greater NYC. Prior to 1996, New Balance had hosted small-scale events for survivors at its store. In 1996, Ann Taylor hosted the first of what would become an annual event called Salute to Survivors. At the event, held in one of Ann Taylor’s flagship stores in Manhattan, breast cancer survivors (nominated by Komen Greater NYC staff and friends) modeled Ann Taylor clothes in a fashion show. Participants had their makeup done by Ramy Gafni, a cancer survivor who volunteered services, and the models were given the clothes they wore in the show. Attendees received a discount on in-store merchandise, and the company donated a percentage of the day’s sales to the Greater NYC Affiliate. The 1998 event was particularly memorable. Famous pastry chef and breast cancer survivor Sylvia Weinstock made a huge cake for the event in the shape of a giant breast. Ann Taylor also became very involved in the Race, becoming the sponsor of the Survivor Café in Central Park for a number of years as well as having the largest corporate Race team. In 2008, Ann Taylor was distinguished as the largest corporate team on Race Day with 1,347 members.
The Tickled Pink! event began in the late 1990s as a comedy event. It was held for two years, and featured female comediennes Joy Behar and Judy Gold. It was run by the junior committee, consisting of women in their late 20s and early 30s. In 2004, the event was reinvented by breast cancer survivor and Board member Iris Dankner and her daughter Nicole. Tickled Pink! is now an annual fashion and social event, supported primarily by Teens for the Cure™, a group of New York City-area breast cancer survivors and their teenaged daughters. The event gives teens, their mothers, and all attendees an opportunity to shop, preview the latest fashions from event sponsor Diane von Furstenberg, and learn about breast cancer and its issues. The first Tickled Pink! event in April 2005 raised nearly $60,000. In 2009, the event, held at the Diane von Furstenburg Studio in Manhattan, raised nearly $150,000.
The Komen Greater NYC organization has always been led by strong and committed women. Volunteerism was (and still is) the hallmark of the Komen organization at large. As Linda Lopez, one of the earliest contributors, described it, in the early years they were a barebones organization that was “running on love.” Volunteers worked out of donated office space as they organized the Race, tried to raise awareness, and tried to raise money. Not until 1996 did the Affiliate have to lease office space in the city.
In 1993, after Komen Greater NYC had hosted two successful Races, Nancy Comer joined the organization. At the time, Nancy was managing editor/health director for Mirabella Magazine and knew Nancy Brinker. Like many others, Nancy’s introduction to the organization was somewhat coincidental but led to many years of outstanding contributions.
Nancy Comer and Grace Mirabella were invited to a luncheon at Tiffany & Co. honoring Nancy Brinker. Nancy Comer just happened to sit next to Komen Greater NYC Board Chair Amy Barr. During the luncheon, after chatting about the New York Race for the Cure, Amy asked her to join the Board. They needed help on the science and medical advisory committee. Nancy Comer said she’d think about it. At the end of the lunch, without waiting for any confirmation, Amy told Grace Mirabella how great it was that Nancy Comer was going to join their Board, and that was that.
By the end of 1993, there were approximately 17 volunteers on the Board and only one part-time employee, Rita Omark. The Board was structured functionally. All jobs were parceled out among the volunteers, who were all working at other careers simultaneously. In addition to the Race, which was still produced primarily by Board members along with the Road Runners Club, people focused on grants, public relations, the survivors program, and advocacy. Dr. Harold Freeman, Chief of Surgery at Harlem Hospital, also assisted the Race as head of the medical advisory board. The Affiliate grew as did affiliates in other cities, with a small group of women starting a Race and then enlisting friends and other professionals to join the cause. “What was so remarkable,” according to Nancy Comer, was that “every city was really a grassroots organization. No one knew the name Komen, they just knew about the ‘Race for the Cure.’”
Debra Schatz, another member from the Affiliate’s earliest days, developed a merchandising program and then started her own company to create jewelry to help raise awareness for breast cancer. “My family set up a bridge table at the Race and we sold pins for $10, with the net proceeds going to the Race. We sold out. It was a huge success!” As the years went on, she went on to design umbrellas, key rings, soap, bracelets and other products, all “for the cure.”
One notable milestone in New York was the issue of the first breast cancer awareness stamp on June 15, 1996. It was created by Diane Sackett Nannery, a postal worker who, according to Debra Schatz, “was a great, feisty, caring, determined woman.” Shortly thereafter, Diane spoke on the steps of the NYC Main Post Office along with Senator Alfonse D’Amato. Organizations from all over participated including the American-Italian Cancer Foundation, Lifetime Television, CancerCare, the Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition, and Brookdale Hospital. Stamps were for sale and there was even a mobile mammography van on site. Diane was a true fighter, but lost her battle with the disease in 2003. The stamp she created, however, is still in circulation.
Over time, Komen National wanted to implement greater standardization across its affiliate network. So in 1999, the New York Race for the Cure officially incorporated and became the Greater New York City Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and used the term Komen New York City Race for the Cure® to refer to its signature event.
In 2000, the decade began on a high note. Investment firm Gerard Klauer Mattison (GKM) offered to turn over its commissions for a day to Komen in an event called “Trade for the Cure.” One of the GKM partners’ mothers was a breast cancer survivor who asked her son to choose Komen for GKM’s charity. When the event was first discussed, Komen Greater NYC asked for some idea of what the organization was going to contribute. GKM promised $50,000, which sounded really great to Komen. When the donation turned out to be $1.3 million, people were completely shocked. In addition, GKM traders raised money individually and formed a team for the Race.
But in 2001, Trade for the Cure was supposed to be Thursday, September 13. After the September 11 attacks, the markets were closed and the city was in complete disarray. They did eventually have the trading day, but it occurred much later and didn’t do nearly as well. In 2003, GKM was acquired by BMO Financial Group, part of Bank of Montreal, and this chapter of Trade for the Cure was closed.
Komen Greater NYC now enjoys a new type of trading day support. On December 9, 2009, ICAP, the world’s premier interdealer broker, raised $18.7 million worldwide on its 17th annual Charity Day, beating the $16.3 million raised in 2008 and bringing the total raised to $119 million since 1993. Komen Greater NYC is proud to be one of the 120 beneficiaries of Charity Day.
The cancellation of the 2001 Race was a real loss for Komen Greater NYC and there was tremendous concern about how to regain the momentum from the 2000 Race. It was clear that the organization could not rely solely on the Race for its annual revenue. Other events had to become fundraisers. The Board approved the hiring of a development director whose role was to focus on non-Race activities.
Komen Greater NYC took some major steps to transition from a Board-run organization to one run by full-time paid staff. In 2002, the Board hired Nicole Rubin as Executive Director and instituted term limits for Board members. Komen needed an evolving Board, one that had an increased focus on fundraising and a decreased focus on doing the day-to-day tasks. Nicole described her early days at the Affiliate as “joining a 13-year-old startup.” She led the implementation of an online database and fundraising system, greatly automating their day-to-day work and allowing them to do year-round fundraising. The following year, the Annual Awards breakfast was turned back into a luncheon to honor the year’s grantees and to raise funds. The Board also began its own grantwriting and focused on board development. Nicole added that “it was such a privilege to be there during this time—bringing people together and tapping into all the energy.”
The organization had grown to the point where it required more paid staff, yet could not risk alienating the core volunteer base. Nicole Rubin stated it clearly: “Volunteers made Komen so successful. Their presence was much greater than their actual numbers!” But Karen Borack noted that “it was hard for the Board members to let go. This was ‘ours.’ We had made all the decisions, we had stuffed the envelopes, we had stayed up all night to get ready for an event.”
Breast cancer impacted the very women fighting the disease. After serving on the Board and also in an advisory capacity and as interim Executive Director, Nancy Comer was diagnosed. She is now proud to be counted among the many survivors. But the Board also suffered some tremendous losses. In December 2002, Komen Greater NYC lost two of its most devoted members in the same week: Co-founder Lynne D. Abraham on December 12, at age 60, and President Jo’Ann Selkirk on December 17, at age 56.
Lynne Abraham, in addition to being a co-founder of the Affiliate, also appeared before Congressional committees and at medical conferences around the country to speak about breast cancer. Lynne was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990. She received the Komen Foundation's Outstanding Volunteer Lifetime Award in 2000.
Most importantly, Lynne felt that Komen needed a place on the map as a substantive partner in the race to cure breast cancer, to advance the discussion and not just be a fundraising organization. Lynne really pushed the organization to focus on education and in her will, she donated funding to host an education symposium. In 2004, Komen Greater NYC hosted the first Lynne D. Abraham Symposium, a free event focused on breast cancer education. A second symposium was held in 2006 and, in 2009, Komen Greater NYC joined with the 92nd St Y, Avon Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in an all-day Breast Cancer Partnership Symposium featuring some of the great minds in medicine, research, and alternative therapies. The third Lynne D. Abraham Seminar was held as a part of this event.
Jo’Ann Selkirk was another committed volunteer who had become Board President in 2002. Following her death, her family helped create the Jo’Ann Selkirk Volunteer Award, given to a breast cancer survivor who has gone to extraordinary measures to support others with the disease. Another award, in memory of Gay Clark Stoddard, is given annually to a healthcare provider who demonstrates outstanding compassion and commitment to breast health care. Gay’s sister Ginny Clark is a long-time volunteer and Board member. It was WNBC’s Jane Hansen who brought Ginny in — she thought it would help Ginny handle her sister’s death better if she could do something to help others with breast cancer.
Jo’Ann and Lynne’s deaths had a huge impact on the Affiliate, and emphasized the need to have committed volunteers and to continue investing in making the organization more professional. According to Nicole Rubin, their deaths were “a reminder to everyone that we’re not as far along in the race to eradicate breast cancer as we need to be.” They all felt even more responsible for carrying these women’s messages forward and worked tirelessly to rebuild the Affiliate. In 2005, Komen Greater NYC was honored as “Affiliate of the Year.” This was a tremendous honor and demonstrated how much the Affiliate had accomplished since 2001.
In 2006, Board Co-Presidents Linda Kahn and Lois Simon spearheaded an effort to revolutionize the Affiliate by hiring a new Executive Director and empowering her to hire a full professional staff. In 2007, the Search Committee and Board of Directors approved the hiring of Executive Director Donna Lawrence. Donna brought in a completely new team, consisting of directors of development, special events, communications, grants and public policy, and finance and administration, giving the organization a core of experienced full-time professionals to steer the Affiliate. In the new team’s first year on the job, Komen Greater NYC increased fundraising by more than $1 million from the year before and increased Race participation by more than 20%.
In June 2008, Komen Greater NYC welcomed its first Chief Executive Officer, Dara Richardson-Heron, MD, who is leading the organization into this celebration of its 20th year of service. Under Dara’s leadership, Komen Greater NYC has been honored the #1 Affiliate in the Komen network for the past two years. In 2009, Komen Greater NYC was named #1 in largest fundraising and largest total amount of grants awarded.
Komen Greater NYC funds community-based breast health programs that provide culturally and linguistically appropriate education and outreach, screening coordination, support, and treatment. It also funds local clinical research enrollment programs that assure access to clinical research for the medically under-served. This mature grants program evolved, like other Komen initiatives, from volunteer-led initiatives and grassroots programs.
Following the success of the first Race in 1991, the Benita Feurey Fund made its first five grants of $3,000 each. The grants were awarded to “outstanding, innovative programs that reach diverse communities of medically underserved women— women who for financial, cultural, physical or other reasons do not have easy access to information and treatment that could save their lives.” The first grantees were: Cumberland Neighborhood Family Care Center, Brooklyn; East New York Neighborhood Family Care Center, Brooklyn; Cancer Control Center at Harlem Hospital; Morrisania Neighborhood Family Care Center, Bronx; and Queens Hospital Center, Jamaica, Queens.
The following year, very shortly after she joined the board, Nancy Comer received a call. In two weeks time, the organization needed to announce that it planned to give out $40,000 in grants at the upcoming Gracie Mansion breakfast. But since there was no formal grants process at the time, no one had applied for any funding. The Board needed to find worthy organizations to receive the grants. Determined to have a professional organization going forward, Nancy took the lead in developing a formal grants process.
Initially, the New York Race for the Cure focused its grants on raising awareness and screening, primarily to benefit underserved and under-insured populations. The Affiliate service area includes the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, Westchester and northern New Jersey—a huge area that would ultimately change as other Races were added. (The Komen Greater NYC service area no longer includes Northern New Jersey, which has its own Affiliate now, but does include Rockland County.) There were no grants focused on treatment. Komen National didn’t allow it; just getting women to go for mammograms was the big issue. In the early years, few organizations applied for Komen Greater NYC grants. The committee chairs and members had to call local organizations to talk them into applying, and they received a total of 10 to 15 applications. When the numbers grew to 45 or 50, they felt it was a real accomplishment. Sometimes, Komen Greater NYC would even go to a grantee and suggest “why don’t you start a service to offer X” and then encourage the organization to apply for a grant to fund this new service.
Some grant recipients became models for programs nationwide. For example, in 1990, Dr. Harold Freeman had created a patient navigation program for Harlem Hospital Center. Navigators were people in the community who didn't have medical backgrounds, but who were trained to help patients get access to health care early. Harlem Hospital’s Patient Navigation Program helped to raise patient survival rates for breast cancer significantly. The Greater NYC Affiliate began funding this program in 1994, particularly because it focused on serving under-insured and underserved populations, the Affiliate’s key focus.
Early on, Komen Greater NYC worked with many Asian organizations but this focus was not necessarily intentional. It turns out that in 1996-97, without email or the Internet, interns had to go to the New York City public library to do their research. Several part-time interns were sent to create a list of all breast cancer-related organizations that might be candidates for a grant. They tediously went through lists and books at the library, but they only got through the letters A-C. There were many nonprofit organizations for the Asian and Chinese populations that were listed at the beginning of the alphabet, and so these organizations formed the bulk of the early Komen Greater NYC grantee list.
The list of grant recipients varied from year to year, as some organizations thrived while others faltered. The committee also debated how many years they should continue funding the same organization. Grantees had to complete a detailed application by hand, answering a series of questions. The grant screening committee looked at strategic placement of different services (e.g., by borough and culture), but their decisions were decidedly qualitative rather than focusing on the numbers served and cost per woman.
Funding research became a priority. Komen National funded research, but Komen Greater NYC wanted to fund its own research grants locally and pay for things that others wouldn’t fund. As Nancy Comer remembers, "Our feeling—and response to National—was ‘NYID,’ meaning ‘New York is Different,’ and we had the financial resources and ability to fund local research directly.” For example, Komen Greater NYC funded the salaries for data entry people needed to do the “grunt” work for researchers—not glamorous work, but without the data, the research studies couldn’t be completed. Researchers will talk about how Komen was the only organization at the time willing to fund non-traditional research projects for breast cancer. And, Komen would fund early stage research, Phase I and Phase II trials. Sometimes funders (e.g., NCI, NCH) required that recipients have already received a grant from somewhere else before you could get funding from them, so Komen Greater NYC provided those initial startup grants.
Komen Greater NYC also had the funding and flexibility to support worthy organizations in other ways. One year, Harlem Hospital came to Komen Greater NYC outside of the grant cycle. Its Patient Navigation Program was struggling and the Affiliate didn’t want to see it fail. It was very satisfying that they were in a position to help this important program continue to serve the community, which it does to this day, allowing it to serve as a model for many other similar programs in the city and around the country.
Over the past twenty years, the Grants program has evolved into a sophisticated, process-driven initiative that funds 30 to 40 organizations in any given year. Under the guidance of Kavita Das and then Mary Haviland, the Grants Committee created a fair, transparent, and accountable grant-making program. In 1998, the grants awarded reached the $1 million mark and funded 40 organizations. In 2009, Komen Greater NYC distributed more than $3.9 million in grants. Of that total, over $2.3 million went to 37 local community-based organizations providing breast educational outreach, screening coordination, support, and treatment services. The balance included $217,500 to increase the capacity of local researchers to enroll underserved women in breast cancer clinical trials, and $45,000 to pilot and educational programs through the small grants program. In 2009, Komen Greater NYC also donated over $1.3 million to support national peer-reviewed breast cancer research projects.
The grantee with the longest history with Komen Greater NYC is the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center (CBWCHC) Asian-American Breast Health Screening and Outreach Program, formerly known as the Chinatown Health Clinic. It has been funded by Komen since 1997. The Center provides outreach and education to the Asian American community. Media campaigns have also been conducted through radio programs and newspaper advertisements to spread the word about breast cancer awareness, screening, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (now Susan G. Komen for the Cure), as well as how these women can turn the information heard into action by calling the health center and accessing free or low cost screening services. Since 1998, the Health Center’s staff and their family members have been participating in the Race for the Cure. The Health Center has also had a table set up during the Race to not only raise awareness about breast cancer among the Asian-American community, but also to show donors that their funds are helping thousands of women.
Advocacy is an important component of Komen Greater NYC’s work. One memorable program took place in November 1996, during Harlem’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The New York Race for the Cure joined with the American Cancer Society, Cancer Care, Harlem SHARE, and NABCO, and formed The Harlem Breast Cancer Coalition to raise awareness. Women in Harlem had a 39% survival rate versus 69% for African-American women nationwide. This “Sister to Sister” program was designed to reach 2,000 women. Whoopi Goldberg was the official spokesperson, and her picture and slogans were displayed on posters and brochures throughout Harlem. Freda McClean was the Komen Greater NYC representative, and she spoke all over Harlem that month.
Each organization contributed people to go to churches on Sunday mornings. They were given five minutes to speak about breast cancer, and they also identified a person in every church as the contact person so people could get more information. Dr. Harold Freeman was also involved. They also spoke at major housing developments during the week.
Komen Greater NYC had so many requests to speak about breast cancer that they developed a Speakers Bureau. The Affiliate trained a core group of skilled and enthusiastic volunteers who helped spread the word about the fight against breast cancer. They spoke at local organizations throughout the city.
There were many other efforts to reach out to other organizations and the public at large. These included having tables at street fairs year after year, health fairs in the boroughs, working the sidewalks in front of Penn Station, in addition to the efforts of the Speakers’ Bureau. Komen Greater NYC reached many communities, schools, and churches that might otherwise never have heard about the organization.
Komen Greater NYC’s advocacy initiatives have documented key issues and challenges facing uninsured and under-insured women. In 2008, Komen produced a detailed white paper called “Through the Wrong Door,” detailing the gaps in the public health system that made breast cancer more likely for certain low-income women. This "Close The Gap!" initiative aimed to provide all women with access to the quality care that can prevent breast cancer and save lives. Using the white paper, Komen Greater NYC advocated for New York State to change its Medicaid ruling to include all eligible women, something that the State did in early 2008. In 2009, Komen Greater NYC released a new and inclusive Community Profile that details breast cancer in 12 different ethnic communities in our Affiliate service area. This report helps point out some of the obstacles that are increasing mortality from breast cancer for low-income, uninsured and minority women.
|Year||Board President or (co)Chair|
|1991||John Mack Carter, Lesta Summerfield Stacom|
|1994||Amy Barr, Linda Lopez|
|1995||Nancy Axelrad Comer, Linda Lopez|
|1996||Nancy Axelrad Comer|
|1997||Nancy Axelrad Comer, Lynne Abraham|
|1998||Nancy Axelrad Comer, Lynne Abraham|
|2003||Cindy Geoghegan, Cathy Leather|
|2004||Cindy Geoghegan, Dr. Michael Cohen|
|2005||Cindy Geoghegan, Cheryl Kallem|
|2006||Linda Kahn, Cheryl Kallem|
|2007||Linda Kahn, Lois Simon|
|1994||Rita Omark (Executive Administrator/EA)|
|1995||Elise Fischer (EA)|
|1996||Elise Fischer (EA)|
|1997||Kim Watkins (Administrative Director/AD)|
|1998||Kim Watkins (AD)|
|1999||Louise Milone (Executive Director/ED)|
|2000||Louise Milone (ED)|
|2001||Susann Eaton (ED)|
|2002||Nicole Rubin (ED)|
|2003||Nicole Rubin (ED)|
|2004||Nicole Rubin (ED)|
|2005||Cecilia Fabrizio (ED)|
|2006||Nancy Axelrad Comer (interim ED)|
|2007||Donna Lawrence (ED)|
|2008||Dara Richardson-Heron, MD (CEO)|
|2009||Dara Richardson-Heron, MD (CEO)|
|2010||Dara Richardson-Heron, MD (CEO)|