“It’s a different feeling being here in person,” Antonella Lombardo said at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Oct. 10 in Brooklyn. “It feels wonderful.”
Lombardo, a teacher and the chapter leader at PS 177 in Brooklyn, walked with colleagues in Coney Island to honor a payroll secretary who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. “We’ve been supporting her for a long time,” Lombardo said, as UFT members and their teams mingled around the union’s tent in pink T-shirts and masks.
Mashantuck Bell, the UFT’s Brooklyn walk coordinator and a chapter leader and paraprofessional at IS 364 in that borough, was selling pink UFT tote bags, masks and notepads with her daughter, Lashawn Holmes, a teacher at Brooklyn’s PS 36, before walking in the American Cancer Society’s annual event, a fundraiser for breast cancer research, advocacy and patient services.
“It’s important to be aware and get involved,” Bell said, urging women over age 50 not to delay their annual mammograms.
When the walks in all five boroughs and on Long Island were canceled last year due to the pandemic, UFT members showed their support through virtual fundraising events. But the pandemic hurt participation, said Servia Silva, the UFT’s Strides coordinator, and “planning the event knowing it would be in person has felt very gratifying.” The UFT and its teams raise the most funds of any participating organization each year.
For school chapter leaders Michelle Bellizzi of PS 198 in Manhattan and Mara Baboff of P721 in Elmhurst, the Oct. 17 walks in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Central Park were an opportunity to build school unity. Bellizzi invited members from all District 2 schools to wear matching T-shirts with pink ribbons to “show everyone we’re there for the entire district family.” Baboff, whose grandmother died of breast cancer, also helped design pink team T-shirts. “So many people in my school have been affected, whether it’s a loved one or a friend, and it’s unified us even more,” said Baboff, whose team raised $4,008.
Sisters and paraprofessionals Sandy Heaney of PS 207 and Mona Waltuch of PS 229, both in Brooklyn, walked alongside their sister Fern Carriero, a former teacher at PS 207 and a four-time survivor of breast cancer who is battling another recurrence. Thanks to the money raised, Carriero said, “research is making great strides.”
Not all participants had a personal connection to breast cancer. Angela Payne, a teacher at PS 219 in Brooklyn, walks in memory of her mother who had lung cancer but said everyone with cancer goes through the same struggles.
By walking, “you can empower each person and let them know we’re all in it together,’ Payne said. “You’re not alone.”