Cancer Resource has two reasons to celebrate

Nonprofit reaches 25-year anniversary with new executive director

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The Cancer Resource Center (CRC) in Ithaca has a lot to celebrate this year, with its 25th anniversary and a new executive director, showing the nonprofit is continuing to do good for the community.

In June, Marilee Murphy took over for Bob Riter as executive director of CRC, an organization that began as the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance in 1994. In 2007, with a new location, the name was changed to Cancer Resource Center to reflect the nonprofit’s expanding mission to cover all forms of cancer.

Riter got involved in 1996 when he was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Later, he became a volunteer and a board member and began working there in 2000. In 2010, he became executive director, and he said that all that time connected to the organization has shown him just how important it is to those in the community.

“Many small nonprofits begin with a real sense of mission, and sometimes, when the founders are no longer involved, it dissipates,” Riter said. “And we’ve been really good about building on the foundation of the founders, expanding our reach, expanding our services and really evolving through the years.”

That message resonated with Murphy, too. She has long considered Ithaca home, and she learned about CRC when her husband used the services during his battle with prostate cancer.

“The support he got was really, really helpful to him,” she said. “Even though we’re both practitioners and knew, we were still people who needed support too, and the Cancer Resources Center provided that for us.”

Murphy worked as an integrated health care provider in a private practice prior to her current position, and many patients had cancer or other serious illnesses. When the executive position opened once again, Murphy went for it, hoping to focus more on cancer, which has had a large impact on her life.

“I just had a lot of respect for who these people are and their dedication and passion that they bring to this issue,” she said.

CRC’s goal and mission resonated with Murphy, and she said she is looking forward to carrying out that mission in the coming months and years.

“At the heart of everything we do, the premise is that no one should face cancer alone,” she said. “That’s what we’re basically doing. We’re providing a community of support for those facing cancer.”

Currently, CRC, located at 612 W. State St. in Ithaca, provides numerous free services for those battling cancer and their families. Services include support groups, yoga classes, a boutique and many more.

“We’re really proud of the services that we’re able to do with limited resources and limited staff and lots of volunteers helping us,” Murphy said.

It’s been 25 years, Murphy said, and she and others have seen the organization accomplish a lot in such a short amount of time. CRC has substantially increased its volunteer base, with 70 to 80 regular volunteers currently; increased collaboration with Cayuga Medical Center and Cornell University; and offered more support groups on a regular basis.

Like Murphy and Riter, many CRC volunteers were originally involved when they or a loved one struggled with cancer and used CRC resources. Beth Lalonde, a volunteer since March 2019, used the center’s boutique during her recent battle with breast cancer, and she said the resources meant so much to her. Since then, she has felt truly valued as a volunteer.

“What I’m doing actually is a volunteer job that is really contributing. I feel like I’m helpful here,” Lalonde said. “They have so many opportunities for volunteers, and they’re so well organized that it makes it possible for volunteers to feel like they’re doing a meaningful job.”

Sharon Kaplan, coordinator of volunteer services, said that has long been CRC’s focus – providing a sense of community and purpose for volunteers, staff and anyone who benefits from CRC resources.

“I love interacting with the volunteers,” Kaplan said. “So many of them say, ‘I think I get more out of this than I give.’ That, to me, is very powerful because they’re doing something because they want to, but it’s having such an impact on them.”

Murphy said she, like many other nonprofit leaders, will be facing the challenge of funding, which is where she plans to put much of her leadership focus. CRC is a local nonprofit with no national affiliation, so most of its services and expenses are paid for by donations and state and local grants.

“Because all of our services are offered for free, we’re pretty much reliant on donations and our own fundraising and grants, so 65% every year … of our operational budget is funded by donations,” Murphy said.

Another challenge is increased demand for services, Murphy said, which is why she is also focused on outreach efforts and expansion of services.

“In a way, it’s the club that nobody wants to be a part of, but if we’re going to be part of the club, how can we meet the needs of everybody who’s in this club called ‘dealing with cancer’?” she said.

So far, Murphy has received plenty of positive feedback regarding her new position, and those interviewed are confident she will keep CRC going strong.

“She’s a terrific addition, very warm, very knowledgeable,” Riter said. “I think that’s very, very important to make everyone feel welcome.”

Kaplan, who was on the search committee for a new executive director, said she saw those qualities in Murphy since the beginning.

“She fits into the role very well,” Kaplan said. “The energy and enthusiasm and connections in the community that she brings are really beneficial for our organization, and they’re going to serve her well.”

Murphy has big shoes to fill, she said. Moving forward, it is important to keep ahead of the changes so CRC can continue to last another 25 years.

“We need to have good people to understand the community and to continually evolve to meet the needs of the evolving community,” Riter said.

The official anniversary celebration is Thursday, Sept. 12, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hotel Ithaca. CRC will be holding its 25th annual Walkathon and 5k Run on Oct. 5 at Cass Park in Ithaca. Visit give.crcfl.net/walkrun for more information.

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