Updated March 24 at 11:24am

Grappling with an evolving mission

By Richard Asinof
Contributing Writer
In the less than a decade since it was founded in 2004, the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation has grown from a small nonprofit created to honor the family matriarch into one of Rhode Island’s largest champions of breast-cancer awareness.

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Grappling with an evolving mission


In the less than a decade since it was founded in 2004, the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation has grown from a small nonprofit created to honor the family matriarch into one of Rhode Island’s largest champions of breast-cancer awareness.

On Oct. 5-7, the foundation’s three-day weekend extravaganza in downtown Providence, Flames of Hope: A Celebration of Life, drew more than 100,000 attendees. The foundation has its own 38-foot motor home, dubbed the Pink Bus, which travels across Rhode Island as part of the foundation’s outreach efforts. A new Rhode Island license plate – with the name Gloria on it – was introduced this fall, to serve as a fundraiser for the foundation’s breast-cancer awareness efforts.

The foundation also has stepped up its fundraising partnerships within the Rhode Island business community. The three Whole Foods Market locations raised $12,104.34 from 5 percent of the day’s net sales on Oct. 9. Rhode Island Medical Imaging recently donated $10,000 in services. A fundraising partnership with Alex and Ani LLC, with 20 percent from the sales of a pair of “For Gloria” bracelets donated to the foundation, is expected to raise about $40,000.

But with the foundation’s rapid success has also come some growing pains, as it grapples with its own evolving mission, moving from building awareness of the disease that will strike one in six Rhode Islanders into program development to provide support to women and men and their families with breast cancer.

In 2011, the foundation joined forces with the Oncology Rehab Partners of Northborough, Mass., co-founded by Dr. Julie Silver, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and herself a breast-cancer survivor, to launch the Survivorship Training And Rehab program in Rhode Island.

“Post-treatment in the cancer field has been done very poorly, especially for breast cancer,” said Gary Calvino, director of development, explaining the foundation’s decision to help underwrite the program.

Through an introduction by Henry Sisun, president of the Rhode Island Rehabilitation Center, Silver met with the foundation, and a partnership was created.

The foundation agreed it would provide $7,500 – half the cost of the training program – and participating hospitals would pick up the other half. They included Women & Infants Hospital, Kent Hospital, South County Hospital, the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island in North Smithfield (owned by Landmark Medical Center), and the Rhode Island Rehabilitation Center.

As a result of the STAR training, the hospitals and rehabilitation center would be able to meet the new requirements announced in February 2011 by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer that they have a follow-up plan of care and cancer-rehabilitation services available for patients.

Part of the money raised by the foundation’s 5K event in 2011, which brought in a total of $188,000, according to Executive Director Maria Gemma, the daughter of Gloria Gemma, was to be used to support the STAR program.

In the last year, the STAR program has been successfully launched at South County Hospital, Kent Hospital, and Women & Infants Hospital, as well as at numerous locations of the Rhode Island Rehabilitation Center.

But payment from the foundation to Oncology Rehab for its training efforts to implement the STAR program in Rhode Island has been slow in coming, according to Diane Stokes, co-founder of Oncology Rehab. As of Nov. 19, a total of $23,500 had been received, with an outstanding balance of $12,600, according to Stokes. Oncology Rehab has made up any difference, without involving the hospitals.

In addition, Newport Hospital, a member of Lifespan, has also become a participant, with 16 patients currently in the STAR program, according to Peggy O’Keefe, spokeswoman for Newport Hospital. The hospital had applied for funding from the foundation for its participation in STAR, but was told that the foundation had a cap that had been reached before the hospital was ready to participate, according to O’Keefe. Oncology Rehab provided for the gap with matching funding for the program, according to Stokes.

Both Calvino and Maria Gemma said that all payments for the STAR program were up to date. Any delay, according to Calvino, was due to the foundation’s wanting to be sure that the training program had been implemented.

Calvino said that the foundation had stepped up to the plate to fund a much-needed support system for breast-cancer survivors. In the future, he says that hospitals – and not just “a little foundation” such as his – should be the ones to underwrite the STAR program to extend it statewide.

Calvino indicated that there was a difference in vision between Oncology Rehab, whose work he praised effusively, and the foundation. “They wanted national publicity; we wanted to make sure the program worked,” he said.

Stokes said Oncology’s focus is not publicity but implementing “a best- practices model of care for cancer-rehabilitation services.”

When asked if the foundation would consider making a payment of $7,500 to offset the money spent by Oncology Rehab for its STAR program at Newport Hospital, Maria Gemma told PBN she would consider it.

The theme of the foundation’s 2012 Flames of Hope celebration was “breast cancer is not just your grandmother’s disease,” to raise awareness of the new, younger face of the disease.

Calvino acknowledges that as the foundation grows, it needs to be more strategic in its approach to its activities, so as not to become overwhelmed by demands for limited resources. A strategic plan is now being developed by Soren Sorensen of the Jai Consulting Group of Cambridge, Mass.

Whether a new plan will include a change in how it spends the money it raises in the community remains to be seen.

The foundation would not provide information on where, other than the STAR program, the money raised from the 2011 5K event was spent.

The foundation did provide an unsolicited $40,000 in February to the Women’s Cancer Screening Program run by the R.I. Department of Health, to expand its services targeted at uninsured women between the ages of 40 and 49 to enable them to receive mammograms.

According to Calvino, the $40,000 gift was the result of recognition by the foundation that its outreach efforts through its pink bus were increasing the demand for the free cancer-screening services offered by the program. •


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