YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. – Katherine Quinn believes experience makes all the difference in how her counselors at Support Connection in Yorktown Heights assist cancer patients. In her 18 years as the executive director of the organization, Quinn’s methodology has been proven correct.
Quinn, of Shrub Oak, helped establish Support Connection to offer free, confidential support services to people affected by breast and/or ovarian cancer in Westchester, Putnam and beyond. Now, Quinn has three full-time counselors who offer peer support to cancer victims. In addition, several volunteers run support groups. The difference with Support Connection is that nearly all of the counselors and volunteers have had cancer, or have families that have been touched by cancer.
“That has always been our model,’’ Quinn said. “It gives cancer patients the opportunity to talk to someone who has been in their shoes. It makes a huge difference. From Day 1, we knew what we wanted to do. Now it’s nearly 20 years and thousands of people later, and that’s still our primary focus.”
The centerpiece behind Support Connection is its one-on-one peer counseling. The counselors offer information about breast and ovarian cancer, emotional support, community resources and referrals and connections to other women with similar situations.
That is just the beginning. The group also has programs so women with cancer can meet for a common purpose, such as a knitting or book club. There are monthly support groups with trained facilitators who are cancer survivors, and wellness and educational workshops. There is an annual Support-A-Walk, which has increased from 800 participants in its first year to more than 9,000. There is also a toll free cancer support hotline, national teleconferencing and a website that reaches people throughout the United States.
“I always have renewed energy when I see a person who we have helped start to feel better,’’ Quinn said. “Just recently there was a person that had a kind of despair. The person talked to one of my counselors, and the woman looked like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. We’re there so people don’t have to be alone. When I get a call from someone that says one of my counselors helped get them to the next day, I feel good.”
Quinn started Support Connection after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and had nowhere to turn for support. Although she was uncertain at the outset on how the organization would fare over the long term, Quinn and co-founders Nancy Heller and Rick Adamski launched Support Connection.
“When I look back, we knew the need was there but we didn’t know how critical the organization would become to so many people,’’ Quinn said. “Did I know it would come to where it is today? Probably not. What I do know is that human connections are critical. Whether it’s cancer or heart disease or mental illness, having a human connection counts. In that respect, I’m not at all surprised.”
Quinn’s organization is small, but its reach is wide. "People have told me with what we’re accomplishing we should have triple the budget and double the staff,’’ she said. "But it’s about the passion. The people are so dedicated. Whatever you’re doing in life, if you believe in it, you’ll figure out a way to make it work. We rely on donations for our survival. Every cent donated means so much. My donors are directly impacting a life. That is pretty powerful."
Quinn’s daily mission has not eroded over time. She still reads Support Connection’s mission statement every day. It keeps her focused on helping people.
“My staff and volunteers work very hard so every person coming to us knows that she or he is our priority. I am so grateful for these fabulous people, therefore, I roll up my sleeves and work right beside them. I get my energy because I know there are people out there who need us.”