Four years ago Mike and his cousin, Erika Rech, whose mother, Carol, was the first of the sisters diagnosed, were walking in the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life.” Erika was talking about the hidden expenses of cancer, such as wigs and co-pay, and the conversation sparked an idea:
Why not start a charity to help women and their families with these costs?
That was the moment, formerly known as Breast Friends Forever, was born. Since December 2007, the charity has raised more than $450,000 and expanded from New Jersey to chapters in four other states.
Mike and Erika, now 19, have received numerous honors and distinctions, including the “Seeds of Hope” award from New Jersey Monthly and the “Health Care Hero” award from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. In October 2011, First Lady Mary Pat Christie invited the teens to Drumthwacket where they were named. In addition, this spring, the New York Yankee’s organization will recognize the teens on the Yankee baseball field for their work.
The cousins started Breast Intentions with about $1,000 in savings from birthdays and confirmation gifts. Several family members agreed to serve as board members, and an attorney, a friend of the family’s, helped them acquire 501(c) 3 status.
From the beginning, their vision for the charity was clear.
“We didn’t want to raise money for a cure but give directly to patients and families in need,” Mike said.
After an article appeared about them in a local paper, they started getting calls and emails, and more publicity followed.
“One of the first people to come to us had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She had four children, with winter approaching, and she did not have enough money to pay for heating or to give her children gifts for Christmas. Our charity not only paid for her heating, we also gave her children presents,” Mike said.
These days, the most common way Breast Intentions hears about cases is through hospital social workers, who recommend breast cancer patients who are in financial distress. The charity has provided a wide range of support to families, including paying bills, buying wigs for women whose insurance doesn’t cover the cost, purchasing groceries, and even arranging for lawn mowing services. The amount of aid a family receives varies with each family’s personal needs, and is normally a one-time service.
Since starting college, Mike, at Rutgers, and Erika, a sophomore at Villanova, have become less involved in the administrative work, passing on the day-to-day operations to a younger cousin. But neither have any intention of stepping down. They have started an initiative aimed at prevention called “Check Yourself Out,” aimed at encouraging younger women to perform monthly breast self-examinations.
Mike plans to reach out to the Greek community at Rutgers to make the charity better known on campus. And they are gearing up for the yearly black tie gala, which has become the charity’s biggest fundraiser.will take place, on March 3, 2012, at the Sheraton’s Meridian Ballroom in Eatontown, from 7 p.m.-12 a.m. Tickets are $150 per person. This year, the organization will honor Negin Griffith, a physician in South Jersey who specializes in reconstructive plastic surgery
“To think that Mike, at the tender age of 15, could have such a vision, and enough drive to see that vision become reality, is truly remarkable, “ said Mike’s aunt, Carol Rech. He’s my hero – and a hero to the hundreds of women whose lives he has touched with his charity.”
Carol celebrated five years of being cancer free in October 2011. Her sister, Patti, will be celebrating five years this April, and Joan, who had a prophylactic double mastectomy, says Carol, is doing just fine.