NYSUT members, through their steadfast generosity, have raised more than $1 million annually in the last four years to help find a cure for breast cancer. For the last 10 years, NYSUT has been a flagship sponsor of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks to benefit breast cancer awareness, research and treatment. Everyone, in some way, is touched by cancer. Here's why these NYSUT members walk:
'Do good and do it well'
As an elementary school teacher for 34 years, Sheila Goldberg knew how much tests concerned her students.
As a two-time breast cancer survivor, she knows how much different tests matter to her. They are the ones that tell her if her disease is busy, or has gone away. A retiree from the Plainedge Federation of Teachers, Goldberg has been through radiation and surgery.
She is just as active in raising money and awareness about the disease as she is in standing up for workers' rights and unions. Both battlefronts have demanded a lot of her time and attention.
"My mantra is 'We do good and we do it well,'" said the peppy Goldberg, who was honored by NYSUT in 2005 as Retiree Member of the Year.
Since 1999, she has been a team leader for the NYSUT walkers from Nassau County. Large enough to qualify as a flagship group, the NYSUT walkers have their own tent at the Jones Beach Strides walk.
About 1,800 NYSUT members from Nassau and Suffolk counties participate, and since their journey began in 1999, the two counties have raised about $2.5 million.
When she first began as a Nassau team leader, Goldberg said that with the help of NYSUT, 12 groups signed up for the walk. They raised $27,000. Now, up to 60 groups show up with their sneakers, ribbons and pink shirts. Last year the Nassau teams alone raised $148,000; the year before, $166,000.
"Now I work with five other retired teachers from Nassau County," said Goldberg. They meet in the summer to put together materials from NYSUT and from the ACS.
Why did she embark on this adventure?
"We thought it was good for the world! You think about how many lives you've saved with all the money you've raised. It's very gratifying."
A dynamic duo
She's a walking, talking display of breast cancer awareness, from her pink ribbon earrings to her ribboned T-shirt, bracelet and watch.
"Oh, when we're in Strides mode, we get all our stuff out," said Charlene DeDell, leader for the South Glens Falls team. A retired elementary teacher, she didn't waste any time finding a purpose once she left her job of 33 years. Her daughter, Danielle Volks, discovered she had breast cancer at age 28, right after DeDell's husband, Jim, discovered he had prostate cancer. Volks, a pre-school teacher, was diagnosed at the end of May. That same fall, they started a Making Strides team and "never looked back," Volks said.
Called Danielle's Courage Crusaders, the team started with 60 walkers the first year, including "tons of teachers" from the South Glens Falls Faculty Association, DeDell's local.
"People do not realize how vital unions are through the whole process of getting sick," DeDell said, noting how they protect workers with bargained sick time.
Mother and daughter have become so successful in fundraising they are ACS pacesetters, which means they raise more than $2,500 in online donations alone. And, in 2009, they took over as co-chairs of the Queensbury walk.
DeDell goes door to door to local businesses to get donations for gift baskets to be raffled off during the walk. She provides doctors' offices with information about the walk. "We always need to add new teams," she said.
The duo recently helped organize a fundraiser by a local motorcyle group. The first-time charity ride raised $4,400 for the cause.
Their efforts are also supported by local high school sports teams, who host "Power of Pink" games. In one such event, Coach Tyler Cary, a member of the nearby Queensbury FA, hosted a volleyball tournament to support the Strides walk.