Colette Jenkins (Staff Writer)
Kerry Walley was devastated when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. About a week later, her employer announced that her job would be shutting down.
“My first question was ‘Am I going to die,’” said Walley, 43. “Being a single parent, the questions that followed were: ‘How am I going to support my family? How am I going to take care of my kids? How am I going to pay my bills and put food on the table?’”
Walley’s follow up questions were answered, when the Stephen A. Comunale Jr. Family Cancer Foundation stepped in and provided financial relief.
The foundation was founded in April 2006 to honor Stephen A. Comunale Jr., who died of cancer that same year at the age of 27. Its mission is to help families affected by cancer with the day-to-day financial needs so that they can focus on fighting the disease. The foundation reviews grant applications twice a week.
On Saturday, 250 participants are expected for the foundation’s biennial Spin-For-Life fundraiser. The indoor cycling event is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn, 3180 W. Market St. Organizers anticipate raising more than $100,000 to help individuals and families pay for immediate living expenses, like food, rent, mortgages, and utilities.
Tim Winter, general manager at the Hilton, has participated in the fundraising event since its inauguration in 2008. “It’s a great cause and a great day of exercise. And it’s a great way to justify that big milk shake at the end,” said Winter, 57, of Bath Township. “I’m just happy to be part of something that helps people with everyday living expenses that they continue to have to pay, even though they’re battling cancer.”
Although Winter, an avid cyclist, plans to spin for the entire six hours, participants may choose to ride in one-hour increments and can form teams. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. and no experience is required to participate. Spinners will be led by Jackie Banyan, a coach and motivator from Jackie’s Gym in Fairlawn.
Walley, who completed chemotherapy in July (a year after she was diagnosed) and is still on medication, plans to make an appearance at the fundraiser to show support and gratitude for the foundation.
“I don’t know how we would have gotten through this without the help of the foundation. I have always been an independent person who never asked for help, so it was hard for me to accept help – it was a pride thing but I am so grateful,” said Walley, who is now employed with the Ohio Lottery. “They gave us gift cards for back to school, paid my rent and my utilities and provided meals. They even got tickets for my son, who was 6 when I was diagnosed, to go on the Polar Express.”
As a way of giving back, Walley plans to help the foundation by delivering meals with her children – Jordan Leason, 8, and Sierra Millirons, 17 – for Thanksgiving and Christmas to other families affected by cancer.
Walley was diagnosed after finding a lump during a self-examination. After a mammogram and ultrasound, a biopsy ultimately confirmed that she had breast cancer, two days before her 42nd birthday. “Her reaction to the chemotherapy was not good. She got really sick from it and had to spend a lot of time in bed,” said Millirons, a senior at Stow-Munroe Falls High School. “It was really hard. I had just turned 16 and had to take on the mother role because my mom just couldn’t do it. I had to make sure my brother was taken care of, that he did his homework, got meals and wasn’t stressed out about what was going on at home, so it wouldn’t affect him in school”
Millirons said she had no idea that a resource like the Comunale foundation was available. “I don’t know what we would have done if that help wasn’t out there. I thank God for that,” she said. “Looking back, it’s hard. I cry every time I talk about it. But I know we’re blessed because my mom’s still here. She’s alive. And she’s cancer free.” In addition to providing money for everyday expenses, the foundation established a fund in 2013 with the Akron Community Foundation (ACF), which allows the nonprofit to access grants from the foundation’s donor-advised funds. That grant money is used to fund experiences, like the Polar Express trip for Walley’s son.
Donor-advised funds, which can be endowed, allow individuals, families and businesses to give charitably when it’s most feasible and later recommend grants from their fund to support their favorite causes and charities, according to Tina Boyes, spokeswoman for ACF. Grants can be made to any IRS-approved nonprofit in the nation. Community foundation staff members handle the review of the nonprofits and the paperwork. For a list of charitable organization’s 158 donor-advised funds, go to www.akroncf.org.
More information about the Comunale Foundation can be found at www.stephencomunale.org or by calling 330-825-5985. The nonprofit also honors Stephen’s mother, Jane Comunale, who died of cancer in 2011, and his aunt, Amy Comunale Klein, who died of cancer in 2007.