By Katherine Quinn, MBA
The following reflections were shared by Support Connection’s Founding Executive Director, Katherine Quinn, when she was presented with the Spirit of Love Award at Support Connection’s Spring Benefit in April, 2016. This award was given in recognition of Kathy’s enduring and boundless devotion to Support Connection’s mission. She began 20 years ago by helping establish the organization, turning a dream into reality. In all the years since, Kathy has led the organization with passion, dedication and love.
Receiving the Spirit of Love Award has such special meaning. I share this award with so many people. I accept it in celebration of the people we help and in tribute to the memory of my parents, my friend, Isabel, who inspired me to do this work, and Maria Rubino Jennings, who offered support to so many and helped build our peer counseling program. I also honor the memory of the women and men of Support Connection who will always live on in our hearts. This award would not be possible without the support of my wonderful family and friends, staff, board and volunteers. To our donors and sponsors, we couldn’t survive without you.
My life began as a true Love story with the marriage of my parents, Mary and Bud Love. Raising 5 children in the Bronx, NY, they worked tirelessly for their family. From a very young age, we learned to be responsible, strong, help others and work hard. We also learned that life’s ups and downs can be difficult to deal with but can also teach us valuable lessons.
My path to doing the work I love began with volunteering. When I was 5 years old, I helped my father sell raffle tickets for my church. Who knew that fifty plus years later, I would still be selling raffles! In high school, I was active in my student government and gained leadership skills. Throughout my adult life, I continued volunteering, often with my family. Volunteering is a gift. Whenever like-minded people join together to get something done, regardless of who gets the credit, the possibilities of making a difference are endless. It has opened my eyes to important causes as well as doors to new opportunities. Through volunteering, I worked with neighbors to build my community block association, read to the blind, served on the board of women’s business groups and helped to promote literacy. For nearly 20 years, I volunteered with the Parent Clubs of the Lakeland School District. I currently volunteer on the board of the Yorktown Teen Center.
My volunteer work eventually led me to change careers. With a college degree in accounting and an MBA, I had a successful career in the corporate world. I enjoyed it but had the desire to use my business experience to help people. I made this transition by taking a position as the Business Director of a domestic violence center.
At the same time, my dear friend, Isabel was diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked for my help in connecting her with women in Northern Westchester who had cancer. After much research, it broke my heart to tell her that there was nothing available.
A few years later, I saw an ad for a Walk to increase awareness about breast and ovarian cancer. I walked for Isabel and had the chance to meet Support Connection’s co-founders, Nancy Heller and Rich Adamski. Nancy was a breast cancer survivor and Rich’s wife, Myra, had died of breast cancer. Hundreds of people turned out for the Walk. At the close of the Walk, Nancy invited people to gather to plan another.
After this Walk in October, 1995, I joined about 20 other volunteers who soon realized we needed more than a Walk. We needed to fulfill Nancy and Rich’s dream—to have a place where people diagnosed with cancer could turn to speak to a person who has walked in their shoes. I offered to help establish the organization by writing and filing the necessary paperwork to obtain not-for-profit status. In September, 1996, we opened a small office in Yorktown Heights. When Nancy asked me to be the first staff member and serve as Executive Director, I was honored. I knew how important this work was. Before Isabel died, she encouraged me to get involved. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her.
The last twenty years have flown by. Our organization has grown and we have helped thousands. Our staff of 7 includes 3 full time counselors who have had cancer. We have 11 support groups, teleconferences, and educational programs. Our one-on-one peer counseling program is invaluable. One of the few organizations with our mission, we have expanded to offer support, hope and resources to people nationwide. All services remain free and confidential.
Some things will never change. We remain true to our mission and volunteers are still a key part of our organization. Young and old work side by side. Our first office volunteer, Ilene, continues to donate 15-20 hours of her time per week. It does my heart good when I hear from our young volunteers that Support Connection has inspired them to do meaningful work.
Many people share that Support Connection is a gift to them. While cancer support is our mission, Support Connection stands for so many other things. It is about the power of caring that joins people together to transform a dream into reality. It is about setting an example that each person can make a difference, and that giving is good for the community and the spirit. It is about creating the extraordinary by giving your all to the ordinary, knowing a smile, a hug or taking a few minutes to listen can work wonders. Support Connection is about love.