Girls in Action: July 2009
Erika Rech and Mike Ruane, 17
July's activists of the month are Erika Rech and Mike Ruane, two teen cousins who started a charitable organization called Breast Friends Forever, which raises funds for women with breast cancer. The organization's goal is to help women deal with their day-to-day financial needs -- and make a stressful situation a little easier to handle. We talked with Erika and Mike about how their organization works, how they got the idea, and why they love doing what they do.
Teen Voices: How does Breast Friends Forever help women with breast cancer?
Erika: We find people through the social workers at our local wellness community center, and through word of mouth we hear of people, and other support groups that will visit the women also tell us about them.
Mike: We thought that we were going to be dealing with a lot of co-pays and doctor's bills and stuff like that, but a lot of the women have asked us to help pay their electric bills and their gas bills and, like, for Christmas we bought presents for their kids. One woman had an autistic son and so we bought him horseback riding lessons as a form of therapy.
TV: Once you came up with the idea for your organization, what did you do to put your plan into action?
Erika: We visited a lawyer. Actually, when we first called her up and told her that we wanted to start our own nonprofit, she asked us "How old are you?" because I was 15 at the time. So we had to get our parents to sign off on a lot of papers because we were minors, and we still do, because we're not 18 yet.
Mike: Erika and I both took 500 dollars of our own money from the bank in order to start up our charity.
TV: Why do you feel helping women with breast cancer is so important?
Mike: It's really important to help them because we're the only organization that I know of that helps the families directly that are struggling financially. Erika and I know your bills can amount to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are a lot of women out there that are struggling and need help with their bills.
TV: How do you raise funds for your organization?
Erika: We started out selling t-shirts and candy at our local church, and then we started doing bracelets as well.
Mike: And after we did that, we needed to start raising more money, because we had a lot of people asking us for help, so we set up our gala on March 7, which was black tie-optional and donation encouraged, and we raised 37,000 dollars at that gala.
TV: How did you decide on the name "Breast Friends Forever"?
Erika: A couple of years ago, Mike and I were doing the Relay for Life and our team name was Breast Friends Forever. We raised a lot of money and that was when we first came up with the idea, because we realized so many people were struggling. There are so many charities out there that work directly towards a cure [for breast cancer], but that doesn't help families directly when they need money to keep their life going.
TV: What are your future goals for Breast Friends Forever, and how do you hope it will grow?
Erika: Well, to date we've raised over 100,000 dollars.
Mike: Until now we've been enlisting the help of our family and friends, and we are thinking about expanding and starting other branches in different towns.
TV: What advice can you give to young people who want to make a difference in their own community?
Erika: I think that one thing we learned is that it doesn't matter how young or how old you are, if you set your mind to something you can definitely do it. I never would have imagined our charity would have grown as much as it has, or that we would have been so successful.
TV: Lastly, which of your organization's achievements are you most proud of?
Mike: Helping the families that we did. There were a few women with stage four cancer, one had eight kids and needed her heating bill paid during the winter, and it's just really nice to be able to help the people that are struggling.
Erika: We helped one lady who actually asked us what she could do to pay us back, and we told her that she shouldn't worry about what she should do to pay us back --we just want her to pay it forward by helping the cause.
TV: Is there anything else that you think people should know or that you want to share?
Erika: That self-examination is really important, and that you can protect yourself if you find cancer early, and that's probably the most important thing you can do, as well as being regular on your check-ups.
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