Chicago, IL || September 2016 - - As founding Rolfe Foundation board member Jim Rolfe made his way through Soldier Field and along the DASH for Detection racetrack, he couldn’t help but grin when discussing how far the Foundation itself had already come. “This organization started with a handful of people in a small living room,” he marveled. “Today, there’s something like 1,600 people participating in this one fundraiser. We’re raising more money for research this morning, in one day, than we did in the Foundation’s first few years of existence.”
Moving through the iconic stadium, it was hard not to share Jim’s enthusiasm. Rather than the orange and blue of Chicago’s beloved Bears, the stadium was engulfed in purple; and around every corner DASH teams were eager to voice their enthusiasm for the Foundation’s mission. By the time the final attendee crossed the finish line, DASH for Detection 2016 had raised over $330,000 for early detection pancreatic cancer research, smashing the race’s previous records for fundraising and participation.
While an endeavor like DASH for Detection may have been hard to conceive during the Foundation’s earliest days, events themselves have long been a pillar of the Rolfe identity. A recurring evening at Ravinia led to the creation of the annual Casino Night; eventually, as the Rolfe network expanded, a full calendar emerged. And from the onset, Rolfe’s Board of Directors saw events as vehicles not just to raise money, but also to raise awareness, and build a concrete network of supporters.
“Beyond acting as large-scale fundraisers, events create a space for community to flourish. And there’s no way to measure what that’s worth.” - Lynda Robbins
“That’s their great value,” explains the Foundation’s Executive Director, Lynda Robbins. “Beyond acting as large-scale fundraisers, events create a space for community to flourish. And there’s no way to measure what that’s worth.”
At the DASH finish line, it isn’t hard to see what she means. The money raised is, of course, substantial. But listening in on pockets of conversation among teams of runners and walkers, another substantial accomplishment becomes evident: people want to emulate this effort. Many want to host their own events, and contribute beyond the Foundation’s organized campaigns. There is talk of concerts, golf tournaments, neighborhood walks, cocktail parties, school benefits, and even an arcade outing.
“This is one of the ways I believe we will continue to grow in the future,” says Ms. Robbins. “Over the past few years, we’ve had more and more supporters approach us about organizing events on our behalf. As they have done so, the success of one person’s effort has introduced us to new communities, who in turn have been encouraged to try their own hand.”
Examples of Ms. Robbins’ observation abound. In 2014, the Foundation was named the beneficiary of Deerfield High School’s student-led charity drive, School Chest, which raised $142,000 in support of Rolfe’s mission. Two years later, when DHS teacher Sara Goldberg’s father-in-law, Michael, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she became a passionate member of the Foundation’s governing board. Soon after, when Michael’s friends and colleagues resolved to contribute to pancreatic cancer research, Mrs. Goldberg, naturally steered them to Rolfe. The result of their drive was United for a Cure, an evening honoring Michael Goldberg and Joseph Borrelli that raised over $200,000 benefiting the Foundation.
“It’s obviously horrible how lines from one event to another are often dotted with families who’ve experienced the crisis of a diagnosis,” observes Jim Rolfe. “But at the same time, its beyond inspiring how many of them have committed to doing something about this disease, and want to ensure the lot of the next person is better than their own.”
"Its beyond inspiring how many of them have committed to doing something about this disease, and want to ensure the lot of the next person is better than their own.” - Jim Rolfe
As the Rolfe message continues to reach additional communities, collaborating with new supporters has become a clear plank of the Foundation’s future. “Community Events offer serious benefits as far as our mission is concerned,” says Ms. Robbins. “Clearly the additional resources for research are appreciated, but beyond that, independent works carry a real weight within the communities they spring from. The conversations and learnings from events do more to raise awareness and foster purpose than any media campaign.”
Community Events also offer the possibility of expansion. “That is a goal,” says Ms. Robbins. “We’re beginning to explore more out-of-state opportunities. The hope is 2017 will be a very exciting year.”
But before anyone’s eyes get too fuzzy with the New Year (and beyond), the 2016 calendar still needs attention. Next up is the Foundation’s longstanding signature casino games night, Speak Out for a Cure; followed by the fifth anniversary of the YPB Holiday Party.
In the second year of it’s re-conception as a speakeasy hued soiree, Speak Out’s chair, Scott Alford of Houlihan Lokey, is determined to continue pushing it to new heights. “This event has a tremendous track record of success,” explains Mr. Alford, “it has an important history within the Foundation, and I’m excited to be taking charge of it, and adding some fun, new wrinkles.” He smiles, then adds: “If you want to know what I’m talking about, tickets are on sale now.”
“Both events,” says Ms. Robbins, assuredly, “are in good hands. We’re confident they’ll meet expectations.”
Or, if the Foundation’s recent trend continues, they’ll exceed them.
Published: September 13, 2016
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This article also appears as part of the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s
electronic newsletter, The Catalyst (Vol. 3, September 2016 – The Next Generation issue).
To read more dispatches from The Catalyst, please click the links below.