Hillary Rutter cried when she heard the news. A vital program she's worked so hard for has been rescued.
A grant that the NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program has relied on for more than 20 years has been completely restored under Governor David Paterson's 2009-2010 budget.
The $294,000 grant serves as the program's base, said Rutter, LCSW, the program's director. Without it, the program, which has counseled breast cancer patients across New York State for nearly three decades, couldn't survive. Although major fundraising efforts support the program, it's the yearly state grant that keeps it afloat.
"Thank you for your support and action during one of the most difficult times in our 29-year history of the program," Rutter said during an April 23 press conference at Adelphi University.
She praised Senator Craig Johnson and Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Wading River) for recognizing "the value and importance of breast cancer support" and the breast cancer hotline and support program itself.
"Through their leadership and perseverance, they rescued the program by restoring our funding," Rutter continued. "They made women and the families of New York State a priority."
Senator Johnson, who lost his mother and grandmother to the disease, said even in tough economic times, he couldn't just stand by as the future of the program was put in jeopardy.
He praised Assemblyman Alessi for leading the fight in his house and applauded all the legislators who took up the cause.
"It is extremely important that we not abandon the families that are reeling from the effects of this disease," said Assemblyman Alessi, whose own wife was diagnosed. "The restoration of funding for this program is a crucial victory for those families that have relied on it for support and guidance."
Alessi said being able to fully restore the program's funding was one of the most rewarding personal victories for him during his tenure as a legislator. His wife was an inspiration.
The program, in its 29th year, has provided professional counseling, education and outreach services to thousands of breast cancer patients and their families. The program offers assistance on a wide array of topics, including referrals for low-cost mammograms, insurance questions and wig suppliers.
The program's aid had been completely eliminated under the proposed executive budget introduced in December 2008. The restorations were made with Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding that was provided to New York State through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Jessica has served as a hotline volunteer since 2002. "This program means so much to so many people," she said.
Cathie Scalfani, the first in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, has volunteered at the hotline for 11 years. "This program has been a gift in my life," Scalfani said.
Scalfani's daughter was diagnosed with the disease at age 40. "I've learned to be proactive because of this program," she added. "Every other Thursday I can listen and encourage. It's paying back."
Fifteen-year survivor Judy began serving on the hotline in 1995. "I don't think there's any other program like this. I'm very glad we still exist. It would be criminal for us not to," Judy said.
Rutter is extremely grateful for the program's volunteers and clients, and all those who wrote letters, made phone calls and advocated on behalf of the program.
"By their immediate and persistent actions, they reinforced and validated the importance of our program's services and they made their voices heard," Rutter said.
Hotline volunteer Ros Innerfield perhaps said it best: "I'm so grateful we've gotten the funding so we can help people we haven't even met yet."