Eight mighty women making a difference
Note - this story originally ran in the Barnstable Patriot on August 8, 2021
On February 9, 2018, “From the Heart” appeared for the first time in the Barnstable Patriot. Titled "A Driving Force," the article recounted my experience as a volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Road to Recovery Program. Through that opportunity to support cancer patients, I discovered the power of giving back to others.
My connection to Road to Recovery originated with a group of volunteers. This is the story behind that committee of eight mighty women working to make a difference for those fighting the battle of cancer, and the bond of friendship that evolved.
The Compass of Hope Gala Committee, originally affiliated with ACS, began almost 20 years ago. One of the first members, Alice O’Neill, remains the unofficial chair and is the heart of the committee. In 2002, after facing her own challenge with breast cancer, Alice was asked to join the group. “I made a commitment of forever,” she shared. “It is incredibly scary when you find out that you have cancer; I would do anything to help others.” When committee member Susan Ellis faced radiation treatment in 2004, it was Alice who drove her to daily appointments. “She had a way that made that time special,” Susan said. “I was not alone.”
In 2012, after the profound loss of my husband to cancer, I stepped on board. The committee was made up of one special gentleman, and a small group of passionate women. The group has since had some transitions; currently I join monthly meetings with our Cape Cod Healthcare (CCH) liaison, Calle Walsh, and members Alice O’Neill, Phyllis Connelly, Susan Ellis, Sharon Kennedy, Melissa Marchand, Kathryn Norton, Diane Salomone.
Over the years, the Compass of Hope galas held at the Oyster Harbors Club have been an evening of elegance, the room filled with guests attired in gowns and tuxes. A significant highlight has been our many honorees: medical professionals, patients, and community members who have inspired others with their dedication to cancer services. Guests enjoy delicious food, dancing, a raffle sponsored by dedicated supporter Roberto Coin Jeweler, and a lively auction that brings tremendous generosity in giving.
Filled with gratitude for the success of our fundraising, in 2017 a yearning began to stir to keep the benefits of our efforts here on Cape Cod, supporting our own community members. A spark was lit when ACS agreed to use the proceeds raised at the Gala to create a $100,000 grant. That grant was awarded to CCH with a mission in mind, to launch a new Oncology Nutrition program. The committee’s dream had come true.
The collaboration continued in 2018; however, ACS was finding it to be more complicated than anticipated. Later that year, ACS made the decision to shift away from our longstanding affiliation. Unsure of what that meant for our committee, we knew the two factors that mattered most in moving forward were that we remain committed to supporting local cancer services, and that we would stay together as a group. Our connection ran far deeper than being a committee of volunteers; we had built deep and lasting friendships.
“We have a bond built out of respect for each other,” Alice noted. “We love working together toward a common passion.” She went on to explain that while asking for money can be difficult, it is the “humane nature of our group” that has made us successful - so successful that our mission has raised an incredible grand total of $2 million!
In 2019, committee member Sharon Kennedy forged the new path. Thrilled with the recently created nutrition program, the CCH Foundation decided to join with the committee as full partners. With the change came a new name, Soirée on the Bay. The Community Campaign for Life was launched, and another successful event provided additional support to cancer services.
Despite the pandemic halting our 2020 fundraising event, the tradition of honoring community members continued. We were proud to honor all 5,000 members of the CCH team who devoted their time to caring for our community throughout the challenging year. With our next event not scheduled until 2022, later this month the committee will be featuring a new giving opportunity. In hopes of continuing our fundraising outreach, three areas of focus will be highlighted in a social media campaign and on our website: www.capecodhealth.org/soiree.
Our commitment is further inspired by the respect and appreciation expressed within our CCH partnership. President and CEO Michael Lauf described that gratitude, “I commend the members of the Soirée Committee for their years of dedication, working together to provide resources that offer care, comfort, and peace of mind to our patients facing cancer treatment.
"Each person on this committee has arrived to help others for their own reasons, whether it is a personal experience, a family experience, or an awareness of a community need. They have a singular objective, however – an abundance of compassion and a driving commitment to help those who need support during a challenging time.
"Whether it’s raising funds to offset the patient costs of transportation or nutritious foods during treatment, educational materials and resources that allow cancer patients to be informed and supported in their journey, or funding extraordinary equipment like the scalp cooling system to mitigate the effects of chemotherapy, the Soirée Committee pulls together and reaches out to others to make incredible ideas a reality.” Mr. Lauf, please know our mission is never finished; it is a work in progress.
A quote by Kathy Calvin captures it best: Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.
The author is a retired Barnstable Public Schools educator.
Image (left to right): Sharon Kennedy, Phyllis Connelly, Diane Salomone, Barbara Dunn, Alice O'Neill, Susan Ellis