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West Virginia Breast Health Initiative celebrates first year dedicated to serving state residents

October 1, 2018
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Runners are seen during the Run for the Ribbon, the annual West Virginia breast cancer 5K walk/run in Charleston on May 5.

CHARLESTON — A little over 13 months into its first year of independence, the West Virginia Breast Health Initiative (WVBHI) has success in raising awareness and funds for solely for the Mountain State.

The group dissolved after 17 years as the Susan G. Komen affiliate for West Virginia in August 2017, restructuring immediately with the same local personnel as the WVBHI.

And while the mission too remained the same, the WVBHI now says it can now better serve West Virginia than it could have attached to a larger body.

The national Susan G. Komen organization required all its affiliates to have a $1 million cash flow, Donna DeHart, WVBHI executive director, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail in March. This meant that if West Virginia’s only chapter wished to remain an affiliate, it would need to merge with another state.

Instead, the West Virginia chapter board voted not to new their contract with Komen national, dissolving the affiliate, DeHart said. The organization then reorganized independently with the same staff and mission as the WVBHI, with its headquarters remaining at Bream Memorial Church in Charleston.

“The same people didn’t want to leave a big gap in the breast cancer health situation here in West Virginia, so we formed the West Virginia Breast Health Initiative,” DeHart said.

Komen affiliates have also dissolved in Arizona, Maine, Wyoming and Washington state. Going independent has allowed the new organization to keep 100 percent of the money raised fundraising events in West Virginia. At Komen-held events, 75 percent stayed in West Virginia, while 25 percent went to research, DeHart said.

Services that WVBHI fundraising benefits include breast cancer screenings, financial assistance for breast cancer patients, outreach education for early cancer detection, and providing immediate phone support to patients.

The organization will soon be in a position to provide grants for rural community health clinics and local hospitals to assist in breast cancer related areas, such as early detection screenings.

“Many of the people you meet and talk to who are suffering from the devastating impact of breast cancer and their families were and are searching for a local organization who can provide and deliver hands-on support fast and when they need it,” said Debbie Townsend, WVBHI president. “Many people that I talked to were telling me that some of the national organizations did not deliver the type of care that they felt was needed here in West Virginia.

“Put simply, that is why WVBHI was formed. To provide the type of local community outreach programs that the great people here in West Virginia were feeling was needed.”

What also sets the WVBHI apart from other larger, more national organizations are the WVBHI’s staff and board of directors — all of whom have been personally impacted by breast cancer. This allows them to more personally empathize, understand and provide more compassion to the many West Virginia families facing similar situations, the organization states.

But the first year of independence has proven fruitful for the new WVBHI. More than 1,000 breast cancer survivors and supporters turned out for the organization’s inaugural Race for the Ribbon in Charleston, representing six states and more than 100 towns and communities in West Virginia.

For more information, visit wvbhi.org or call 304-556-4808.

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