Virtual walk is actual success

Brodeur Foundation raises nearly $240,000 despite pandemic

By KATHLEEN EDGECOMB

Joan Galeotti with Team Strong Enough Southeastern CT
Joan Galeotti with Team Strong Enough Southeastern CT

Joan Galeotti was not going to let something like a global pandemic stand in the way of raising money for breast cancer research.

Caitlin Galeotti walking in Brooklyn, NY
Caitlin Galeotti walking in Brooklyn, NY

When the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation canceled its annual fall walk and replaced it with a virtual event, she sprang into action and rallied her friends and family from near and far.

On Oct. 31, her 11-member fundraising team called “Team Strong Enough” took to the streets. Eight walked 13.2 miles in Old Saybrook, with husbands riding bicycles in support offering snacks and water and picking up discarded clothing as the day warmed up. Team member, Stacy Lewi, walked in Vero Beach, Fla., where she lives in the winter. Galeotti’s daughter Caitlin walked in Brooklyn, N.Y., and her friend Emily Ruocco walked in West Hartford. Together, yet apart, and with the help of a cupcake fundraiser hosted by the Ivoryton Tavern, they raised more than $10,000 and money is still coming in.

The 15th anniversary of the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut, despite being virtual, inspired hundreds of cancer survivors, families and friends, and raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research.

“It was a huge success. It exceeded my expectations,” Kate Davis, the 2020 walk chair and director of operations, said during a telephone interview last week.

Last spring when the board canceled the walk and switched to an all virtual format, members were not sure they would raise enough money for even one fellowship grant.

Davis said 303 walkers signed up for the virtual walk, with about 23 percent from out of state, raising to date nearly $240,000. Participants have until the end of the year to make donations, and Davis expects to surpass $300,000. The board also voted to include a virtual walk as part of the 2021 in-person Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut.

“Due to the hard work of our walk team and especially the commitment of Kate Davis, our operations director, we created a very successful virtual walk in a year that many nonprofits are and continue to face challenges.  We had over 300 walkers, almost a third of whom were first time-walkers, and 23 percent were from out of state,” Patti Burmahl, board president said in an email. “While we and many of our supporters missed having an in-person event this year, we realize we now have an opportunity to expand our reach by continuing with the virtual aspect of our walk to attract walkers from across the country while still having our in-person event that is such a special day – that is our hope for 2021”

Most importantly, she added, is that the foundation anticipates giving our three or four research grants.

“This is a great result, and it speaks to the wonderful supporters that we have,” John LaMattina, a founding member and past president of the board of directors, said in an email. “In the face of a pandemic, TBBCF was able to continue its mission!”

The annual October walk was replaced with a virtual walk because of COVID-19. The foundation asked supporters to organize their own fundraising events. People could choose the date and customize it to fit their needs. Loyal followers of TBBCF, who believe in the organization’s mission to donate 100 percent of fundraising dollars to breast cancer research, including 94 first time walkers, stepped up.

Selfie with Laurie Alexander and Julie Victoria on Cuomo Bridge Path
Selfie with Laurie Alexander and Julie Victoria on Cuomo Bridge Path

Julie Victoria walked across the Hudson River on the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. Others broke up their walks, pacing themselves over a number of days and still others called on family and friends, representing 17 states other than Connecticut, to join the cause. Stacey Gualtieri swam 1,072 laps in her backyard pool in August — that’s more than half a marathon.

“I was just so thankful I thought of this,” said Gualtieri, long time treasurer for the foundation and a board member, who was facing hip surgery and was unable to walk far distances.

“I put on a mask and snorkel and swam 60 to 80 laps at a time. It took about an hour and I got myself in this really good place,” she said. The other four members of her team “Not Fast, Just Furious” walked the full marathon distance.

Amy Caster, director of development and outreach, completed her marathon miles by walking at Bluff Point State Park, Napatree Point and along the Mystic River. She could not hold her annual ice cream social fundraiser because of Covid concerns, so she came up with a jewelry bingo game on Zoom and raised more than $500.

“I love the excitement that was felt around the virtual walk,” she said in a text message. “We were not able to be together, but we could still work together toward our same goal.”

Michelle Sottile-Hoyt, Terri Brodeur’s sister and a member of the board, was facing foot surgery, but the virtual event provided her with an opportunity to complete a marathon she did not think was possible.

She did not walk in 2019 because of a bone spur and figured she would be sidelined again in 2020. But when the event went virtual, she laced up her sneakers and walked around her Ledyard neighborhood. She walked four to six miles a day during August, completing the marathon distance just before heel surgery. She got her husband, who usually volunteers on walk day setting up and dismantling equipment for opening and closing ceremonies, to complete a quarter marathon.

The virtual walk allowed people to continue to support TBBCF and raise funds for research, said Sottile-Hoyt, who completed 13 of the last 15 marathons.

“We didn’t lose momentum,” she said during a telephone interview. “It was definitely a huge success, and at the end of the day it was a nice reminder that although Covid was at the forefront of everything going on, breast cancer is still around and research needs to be funded.”

Please consider donating to TBBCF at https://www.tbbcf.org/

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