The following article was written by Rachel Koepke and Karen Kunkel
The Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition (BBCC) was founded in 1993, when three good Babylon Village friends, Debbie Basile, Betty Ann Innes and Pat Smith, two of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, were sitting around the kitchen table. They decided they could no longer ignore the statistics. These ladies wanted to logistically see what was happening on Long Island’s South Shore regarding “clusters” of breast cancer. They began going door to door, along with the West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition, mapping the cancer incidence. From 1993 onward, the coalition evolved and expanded.
The BBCC is a grassroots nonprofit, providing services to individuals in active treatment for breast and/or gynecological cancers. These services can include rides to and from doctor/chemotherapy/radiation visits, prepared food, house cleaning and assistance with essential bills. The program is aptly named the Lend a Helping Hand Program (LAHH).
Karen Kunkel, the volunteer president of BBCC, has been involved with the organization for more than 20 years. “My daughter was just turning two and I wanted to expose my children to the essential benefits of volunteering throughout their lives,” she said. “I believe we are obliged to give back to society, and as a woman, certainly women’s causes are on the top of my list.”
Throughout her time with the BBCC, Karen has chaired many committees and served on the board. She became president of the organization in 2016. She is proud of her team and everything they have accomplished in the line of breast cancer prevention, research, education, services and support.
“Our approach has evolved to encompass the mind, body and soul,” Karen explained. “We offer Reiki, meditation, journal writing and informational seminars for our participants.” Some other programs they offer include the Pink/Teal Ribbon Program (an exercise program designed for women to regain strength, stamina and energy after surgery), high school scholarships, research grants, and Be Smart Educational Program offered through local schools. “Additionally, we have our Gift of Health and Inspiration (GOHI) bag given to newly diagnosed patients filled with important information and soothing and healing items to help our clients in their journey,” she added.
The BBCC has a Vision of Hope Garden that was developed at the Babylon Town Hall. “This garden is a beautiful little sanctuary where one can sit and reflect,” Karen said. “The garden was conceived and developed to incorporate a ‘ribbon path’ met with an ‘O’ garden. The coming together or merging of the two represent the connection between breast and gynecological cancers.” Bricks can be purchased to be laid on the garden paths. Volunteer groups tend to the garden, a wonderful undertaking. BBCC has a Sense of Security (SOS) program that helps to assist the family when a gynecological/breast cancer warrior passes.
Nearly the entire crew at BBCC is made up of volunteers. “Volunteerism comes with compromise and flexibility,” Karen said. “At times, life gets in the way, changes evolve, but we are a good strong team. Our main thrust is to help alleviate the stress a diagnosis can bring. This way of assisting has changed over the years. Today, many need transportation and help with co-payments. The protocol for many in treatment has also changed: chemotherapy followed by radiation five days a week for a month. Being able to help so many in the Babylon Township Community is so extremely important and rewarding.”
Although Karen has been involved with the BBCC for many years, she said there are many who are unaware of its existence. “It always makes me chuckle and amazes me when I meet people who say never knew we existed,” she said. “As a group, we have had to think outside of the box. Our annual fundraisers are being postponed, and we have even had to cancel our annual Chefs for a Cause event this year. Each event is spectacular and incredibly different from the other, bringing all age groups to the table. We live in such a wonderful Township where our communities want to help. We are working hard as a group to cut back spending on our programs, but to keep them going through this unforeseen time and into the future. Much of what we do is subsidized by donations, sponsors, grants and fundraisers.” Some upcoming events include the Tanger 5K (October 4 at Tanger Outlets in Deer Park).
Karen would like to share a word of thanks with all those who support their mission. “I would like the community to know that our fundraisers benefit our programs,” she said. “We are conservative, always thinking of utilizing our money first and foremost for our participants in need in our township, keeping our spending caps at a reasonable amount to truly help alleviate the stress this diagnosis comes with, a re-diagnosis or even a metastatic diagnosis.”
For readers interested in getting involved, there are a variety of means to do so. “Community members can support us by attending events, donating raffles, sponsoring events or hosting a fundraiser,” Karen said. “Many of our programs are run by volunteers with a specific talent they would like to share and bring to the group. Many people may just want to help, whether volunteering to drive or work a fundraiser or table at a fair. Volunteerism can be as big or small as you want.” For more information about volunteering, call 631-893-4110 or visit their website at www.babylonbreastcancer.org.
The BBCC office is located at 218 N. Wellwood Avenue, Suite #2 in Lindenhurst, NY. They can be reached at 631-893-4110 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. To learn more, visit www.babylonbreastcancer.org.
Pictured above: President Karen Kunkel and her son, Cole Kunkel.