There may not have been any of the usual cheerleaders doing cartwheels at this year’s Making Strides Jones Beach fundraiser -— held as a drive-thru rather than a walk- — but there was a field of pinwheels with Sheila Goldberg’s photo in the middle.
The pinwheel memorial garden, along with the event itself, was dedicated to Goldberg, a longtime teacher and NYSUT activist who forged a connection between the American Cancer Society and NYSUT. A flagship sponsor of the statewide Making Strides since 2002, NYSUT dedicated all of this year’s fundraising events to raise money to end breast cancer in Goldberg’s name.
“She didn’t stop,” said retired teacher Debbie Puccio, recalling how Goldberg put streaks of pink in her hair the month of October every year. Puccio took over Goldberg’s post at the Jones Beach event table for NYSUT in 2018 when Goldberg started getting ill from another bout of cancer. She died this past January, and Puccio said when her family was asked at her funeral what could be done in her name, they asked that her work for Making Strides be carried on.
“We raised $10,000 in her name just from that,” Puccio said. “Sheila never missed an opportunity to speak up and speak out about social causes.” Goldberg started advocating for the Making Strides walks locally in Nassau County, and then the word and the work spread across the state with NYSUT.
Puccio also set up an online message board where people could post photos of loved ones who died from cancer, featuring Goldberg’s photo and these words from the American Cancer Society, dedicating the walk to her “as we continue the fight fueled by your passion.”
Puccio helped Goldberg on the Making Strides committee for 10 years, beginning when her young daughters helped them stuff envelopes filled with information. “She made me promise that when she wasn’t able to do it anymore, that I’d take over.”
The Jones Beach fundraiser is one of many across the state during October. With COVID-19, fundraising events have changed from throngs of walkers to other creative alternatives, such as decorated car drive-thrus, step challenges, a virtual mosaic, city scavenger hunts, and more. NYSUT members have raised more than $15 million since NYSUT became a flagship sponsor of the statewide event. Funding is spent on research, including grants to SUNY and CUNY faculty; lodging for patients and family; rides to treatment and education.