The Cancer Resource Center of the FL, is Here For You:

No one likes to think about cancer, which makes it that much harder when we are facing a diagnosis. That is what makes what the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes or CRC, does all the more important. I had the privilege of sitting down with two of the four staff members of CRC. Jen Harris is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator and Bert Scholl is the Client Services Specialist, together they helped me to understand the heart behind what they do at CRC.

There is no doubt that helping people is at the heart of this organization. Helping individuals and families who are facing cancer, to be more specific. This is done through a number of ways, but we will focus on four main areas: support groups, financial support, community resources and the Emily Virkler Boutique. All services are free of charge to their clients, but that is not all: they can also help cover other expenses incurred during a cancer journey. This alone can be a tremendous blessing to someone, and it is a fact I am not sure the general public knows about.  Support groups, one on one time, and peer to peer groups are a great way to connect those who need to talk with someone who understands what they are going through. Bert Scholl’s job, although I am convinced he does not see it as work, is to make connections with people whether within their walls or on the cancer ward at CMC. It warms Bert’s heart when someone stops in to talk. He loves that his job is to connect with people in this way, and he loves when he can provide reassurance. Next to personal support is the incredible depth of resources from which they can pull. The staff at CRC has, over the years, gathered together a wealth of information that can be of assistance to someone going through cancer. When an individual first walks in the door, unsure and overwhelmed by a cancer diagnosis, employees place meeting their needs above everything else. Indeed, even during our interview, I saw this put to practice when a few clients stopped in for various reasons, putting our conversation on hold for a moment.

The Emily Virkler Boutique is a fully stocked “shop” carrying wigs, head coverings, mastectomy bras and other such personal care items. Losing your hair due to chemo can be a very unsettling experience, but getting fitted for a new wig or head covering can help make one feel more like themselves. Each item comes with a card remembering and honoring Emily. Emily was a native Ithacan who died of brain cancer in 2017. The boutique and the fund that supports it carries her name and was set up by her friends and family. That fund is one of several memorial funds donors can choose to give to. This is one of the ways that CRC can continue to offer all these wonderful services for free. A full list of memorial funds, who they honor and what they are used for can be found on the home page of the resource centers website

CRC’s history is rooted in need. Nine women, diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and feeling alone and unsupported while going through their treatments banded together to fill this need in our community.  At the time, awareness of breast cancer and prevention was still growing. Originally named the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, it was not the only cancer support group that was founded in the early 90s. The Alliance officially became a non-profit in 1994 and had their first walk-a-thon that same year which raised $4,035. Clearly, Ithaca was ready to support such an organization. That has been the story ever since as the Alliance continued to meet more and more needs of its clients and expanded into the organization it is today. In 2007 its name was changed to the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes and expanded its scope to include all cancers.

None of this would be available without the financial support from community members. One great way to get involved is the annual 5k/ walk-a-thon which takes place on the first Saturday in October. This event, besides being the biggest fundraiser for CRC, is an uplifting, positive celebration as hundreds of current and previous clients gather again. It is truly a family reunion and a reason to celebrate. Money is raised through registration, friends, family and sponsors as well as outright donations. Jen, while new to CRC, will oversee the volunteers for this event, and many other outreach events throughout the year, showing much passion and creativity. Jen’s vision for CRC is to find people in the community that are willing to support the organization with “head, heart and hand” as she says. To explain, “head” refers to those who are willing to share their positive experiences with the community. “Heart” refers to those who are willing to give financially and “Hand” refers to those who are willing to volunteer. If you feel you could help with head, heart or hand, please reach out to the Center at (607)277-0960 or recent move for CRC, to the village from downtown Ithaca, the staff feel it has been a good one. Parking is a definite bonus and the location to the nearby highway and centrality to surrounding areas for clients traveling from all over the Finger Lakes is very appreciated although they also connect with clients over the phone and zoom. It is easy to see from my short time with them that both Jen and Bert care deeply about the mission of the Center, and I can only imagine the other employees feel the same. Their work is not easy though. In reference to losing clients to cancer Bert says, “As difficult as it is, it is still an honor to stand by someone’s side.” A somber note to end with, for sure, but on the other side of the hardship of death is the celebration of life, and being a survivor of cancer is clearly something to celebrate, which the staff wholeheartedly joins, when the occasion arises. It is hard to believe that in these few small offices tucked into Village Green, above Ned’s Pizza, all this wonderful support is happening. What a tremendous asset to any community!

Front room of CRC where love and hope are shared.
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