NOTE: Printed in special “Pink” section
By Brenda Maguire
NEW BRITAIN — It was 20 years ago that Joyce Bray’s mother died of breast cancer. But the loss crystallized Bray’s focus for the rest of her life, leading her to later launch the CT Breast Health Initiative and seek a cure to the disease that took her mother’s life.
Twelve percent of women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime and it’s expected that 40,000 women will die each year of breast cancer. The Breast Health Initiative is dedicated to raising money to help fund breast cancer research and education in the state.
“What makes us different is we’re the only one who gives to research in Connecticut,” said Bray, the president of the initiative.
Since the initiative started in 2004, it has awarded $1.7 million in research grants to 20 different researchers at Connecticut hospitals. In the past, grants have been awarded to the YMCA of New Britain, Hartford Hospital and UConn Health Center.
Six of the researchers have presented their progress at national meetings.
“That’s the message we want to get out,” Bray said. “What we’re really about is raising the money for the researchers.”
Throughout the year, the initiative holds multiple fundraising events.
The most significant is the Race in the Park, held at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain, that accounts for 65 percent of the initiative’s income.
The organization also holds the Howard H. Belkin Memorial Golf Tournament every year, which has raised nearly $300,000 in eight years.
In addition, other organizations run fundraisers to benefit the initiative. This includes the Connecticut Street Rod Association, which raises about $15,000 a year at its car show, and the Niantic Jazzercise Fitness Center, which raises more than $20,000 a year with its Thanksgiving morning jazzercise class.
The initiative’s board of directors is composed of 13 volunteers and occasionally offers paid part-time jobs when needed.
“These volunteers are the most passionate and I think they would say this is one of the most rewarding volunteer jobs,” Bray said.
She had formerly been the chairperson for the Connecticut chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Eight years ago she broke off from Komen for the Cure to start the initiative in an effort to keep more money in Connecticut.
“We made about a million dollars in the last year and we were still supposed to give 25 percent to the national organization,” she said.
She later added, “I just think that Connecticut should be proud of the work being done by our state and continue to support it and support us. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an answer that came out of Connecticut?”
For more information on the CT Breast Health Initiative, visit http://ctbhi.org.