Caring for cancer patients

Each year in Summit, Portage, Medina and Stark counties, approximately 3,000 people hear the words, “You have cancer.”

Many more are living with the disease and are unsure where to receive support for themselves and their families. Kelly Tomblin, executive director of Stewart’s Caring Place, is working to relieve that problem. Currently working from two donated office spaces, she is planning to open a one-stop wellness center in Akron in May 2004 in memory of Dr. Stewart Surloff, a beloved community leader who lost his battle with cancer in 2001.

Although Surloff had the financial means and the support of friends and family, Tomblin says it was difficult for him to find one place to go with his wife and daughters to deal with the impacts of cancer. Stewart’s Caring Place is being designed to provide services free of charge to cancer patients and their families to supplement their medical attention and round out their holistic mind-body-spirit care.

Proposed services include a resource library; peer, children and spouse support groups; an educational series; bodywork; creative expression; yoga; meditation; bereavement counseling; and babysitting.

The program has a first-year operating budget estimated at less than $300,000 and its search for a location to house Stewart’s Caring Place is ongoing.

Smart Business spoke with Tomblin about the difficulties of starting a nonprofit in these tough economic times.

With health care costs rising, how will the services at Stewart’s Caring Place help fill the gap?

At Stewart’s Caring Place, we want to look at an integrated approach to the impacts of cancer. While we will not be able to fill in the gap of chemotherapy and medical care, for instance, we can fill the gap with regard to information.

With medical care pressures, there often isn’t time to talk about what it means to have cancer, the different types of cancer, what it means when they say you have breast cancer in level 4.

We help people sift through the information and make choices about what they want that health care to be. We supplement and complement the medical care through services that address emotional, social, psychological and physical needs. … These concepts have been tested at centers like The Gathering Place in Cleveland, the national Wellness Community organization and Gilda’s Club.

How do you raise funds in the current economic environment?

Dedicated people give their time, but more importantly, give their money and ask other people to give theirs through private networking. We do publicity and advertise in the Akron Beacon Journal. We have several committees, including a community outreach committee with an interfaith council.

We’re also sending out a little army to make presentations to corporations. Our soft fund-raising includes foundations and small events, but person-to-person solicitation really gets people to understand this need.

The IRS recently recognized Stewart’s Caring Place as a 501(c)(3) company, retroactive to June 5. What does that mean for your organization’s future?

People won’t be concerned about giving big donations because the contributions will be tax deductible. Foundations have wanted us to apply (for funding), but we couldn’t do it before because they required a 501(c)(3) determination.

Why do individuals and businesses contribute to Stewart’s Caring Place?

Cancer has impacted them and they want to create a home so their experience of isolation and confusion isn’t repeated. Also, a lot of people knew Stewart Surloff, and they want to support his memory and his legacy.

For a lot of people, supporting this project is appealing because there seems to be an obvious gap in a community that has so many services and so much going for it. Other people like the idea that we’re looking at people’s health as a mind-body-spirit experience.

The American Cancer Society supports us wholeheartedly and is helping with our research needs. We’re reaching out to Visiting Nurse Services, hospice and all the hospitals. We’re starting to work with the nutritional and therapeutic communities. We have oncologists and therapists on our board and advisory committee.

I also volunteer at The Gathering Place in Cleveland because I care about it, and it’s given me great insight. Eileen Saffran, their executive director, acts as my mentor, which has been invaluable.

Where will Stewart’s Caring Place be located?

We’re trying to figure out the best place to settle that has the best price we can afford because we intend to lease for a year or two before we buy. We should have that determined by the end of the year.

We want our facility to be wheelchair accessible and on a bus line. We need a flexible space for all of our services; just having an office space won’t work. We need 3,500 to 5,000 square feet.

Anything else to add?

I’m surprised how generous the Akron community is with their time and money. I have learned how pervasive cancer is, how people have dealt with its impact and how they are willing to give back from that experience.

Many of our volunteers have had cancer; they tell me it’s a healing experience to be involved in this project, and that makes us very happy. It’s an honor to hear what they’ve gone through and how they’ve emerged on the other side, and it’s a privilege to be involved with it. HOW TO REACH: Stewart’s Caring Place, (330) 835-0014 or