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The green behind the pink: How Komen breast cancer group spends its funds

by Colleen M. Padia
Dec 03, 2008

If you’ve ever purchased a pink item during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or pledged money to a co-worker running the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, you’ve probably felt good about helping out a great cause. But you’ve probably also wondered where exactly that money is going and who it helps.

Rest assured that a majority of the funds raised for the Chicagoland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for Cure stay right here to benefit community organizations that help fight breast cancer and support those who are fighting the disease.

“A unique thing about Komen is that although we’re part of a national network, each affiliate is responsible for raising its own money,” said Leticia Kees, manager of Mission Initiatives at Komen Chicagoland. “Seventy-five percent of the money stays in the community, and 25 percent goes to the national organization to fund research.”

The Chicagoland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure raises money for its projects primarily through two sources: the annual Race for the Cure and individual donors. This year’s race, held on Sept. 27 in Grant Park, raised more than $1 million, which was a new record for the event in Chicago.

There are two other signature events for Komen in the works for the coming year.

“We’re adding Dancing with the Chicago Stars and a golf event in June,” said Kees. “We anticipate those to be very successful.”

Komen Chicagoland uses the money it raises to provide community-based grants to organizations in the area. The number of grants awarded varies from year to year depending on how much money is raised. It funded 23 in 2008, up from 13 in 2007.

“The grants fund anything from screening to education to treatment programs and support services to people who are diagnosed or their families,” Kees said. “To date the grants have been up to $75,000.”

Applications for the grants are carefully screened to select organizations that will most benefit the community. The first evaluation of the application is done by Kees, whose background is in grantwriting. In addition to making sure that the application is complete, she reviews it to make sure it is well written and clear.

“If you want $75,000 it should be a well-written application,” she said.

Next the application goes to an independent review board assembled by Komen Chicagoland. Members consist of breast health experts, survivors and community workers who bring a range of knowledge about the issue of breast cancer to the table. Their recommendations for which applicants should receive grants then go on to the Komen Chicagoland board for final approval.

The applications are evaluated based on five criteria: impact, feasibility, capacity, collaboration and sustainability.
While all the grantees work in the general community of breast cancer, they vary greatly.

The Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook was one of the groups awarded a Komen grant in 2008. It hosts two monthly support groups for survivors of breast cancer.

“Survivors at all stages get together to talk about what’s happening in their lives,” said Cancer Wellness Center co-founder Patsy Winicour, who is a breast cancer survivor herself.

“Another program I started is called Breast Friends. It’s a group of survivors who meet based on an activity, like making bracelets or going for a meditative walk through the botanic gardens.”

The Komen grant allows the Cancer Wellness Center to continue hosting groups in Northbrook, as well as start new support groups at its new center in Grayslake, said Winicour.

Kristine Messitt, nurse coordinator of the Well Woman Preventative Health Project at the DuPage Community Clinic in Wheaton, said that the project’s Komen grant allows them to have a nurse on staff to keep track of patients to make sure they’re getting the care they need.

“We serve a little over 3,000 people, 1,562 of which are women, and all of our physicians are volunteers,” she said. “The nurse follows-up on who has been seen, who needs to be seen and makes sure they’re seen by a surgeon if that need arises.”

The clinic receives no government funding and doesn’t accept Medicare patients, instead focusing on community members who don’t have insurance and would otherwise “fall through the cracks,” according to Messitt. Because of that, the Komen grant is vital for them.

“We would not get this done if it wasn’t for the help of  Komen. Our patients probably wouldn’t even be aware that they need a mammogram.”

The grant process for 2009 starts tomorrow, when applications are due to Kees. The grantees are notified at the end of March and they can start putting the grants to work for their organizations on April 1.