By Harley Nefe
The High Country Breast Cancer Foundation (HCBCF) was founded in April of 2017 with a unique mission and promise to the community — 100% of the funds they raise go to providing for the needs of breast cancer patients, survivors and their families in the North Carolina High Country. All the members of their organization are volunteers, and this year, they are celebrating their five year anniversary.
“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without the community support,” said Irene Sawyer, who is the founder of HCBCF. “Just from day one, everybody in the High Country has just embraced the Foundation. They’ve contributed; they’ve supported us; they’ve shown up for us, which is really awesome. We have raised so much money that we have helped so many people in so many different ways that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
In addition to celebrating their years of service, HCBCF members are busier than ever preparing for their annual 5K Walk/Run Event coming up on October 30. After a successful 5K last year, HCBCF will once again hold its 5K virtually, due to the increased risk of COVID-19.
Registered participants can take part in the 5K anywhere and begin anytime they choose on October 30, by walking, running or hiking. HCBCF encourages folks to participate with their family, friends and four-legged companions because prizes will be awarded.
The prize categories include: participant located the furthest from Blowing Rock, oldest participant, youngest participant, best costume/racewear, best overall team, director’s choice and favorite animal participant.
In order to enter into the competition, participants are asked to take a picture and send it, while indicating the prize category, to the Foundation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hcbcfoundation. To register for the 5K event, visit the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation’s website at www.hcbcf.org.
“We are a true nonprofit,” Sawyer said. “Nobody gets paid for working with the Foundation, and any expenses of the Foundation, I cover those personally. For example, the t-shirts that we have during each race, I pay for them out of my real estate practice because I want to be able to stand in front of people and say ‘I can promise you 100% of whatever you give will go to patients, nobody else.’”
All of the proceeds from the registration money goes directly to breast cancer patients locally in the High Country to assist with any needs they have. HCBCF lets their clients tell them what kind of assistance would be most beneficial through their treatments and journey.
“We help children who have survived a patient who has died by contributing to a college fund for some of these children,” Sawyer explained. “It basically comes down to when we find a new patient that needs our help, we interview them, and we basically say to them, ‘How can we best help you?’ For example, when we had that big snow storm last year, we got a call from a patient who couldn’t get out of her driveway because of the snow, and she had to get her chemotherapy. So, we were able to get somebody out there to plow her driveway. It’s all over the place. It’s gas cards. It’s food. We let the client tell us what they need, and that’s what we do for them.”
Sawyer is pleased with how well the Foundation has taken off in five years, and her own personal battle with breast cancer has provided the motivation needed to see the nonprofit through.
“My inspiration for founding HCBCF, believe it or not, is because I’m really not supposed to be here,” Sawyer said. “I had triple-negative breast cancer, which has a 30% survival rate, and the odds were not good for me, but I had so much community support. I had so much positive energy sent my way that I truly believe that helped me survive this, and now I’m ten years out. And what I did was I would volunteer for different breast cancer organizations, but I never felt like I was doing enough. And so the High Country really gave me the opportunity to fulfill a dream. It’s not like I’m doing this for the High Country; I’m not. The High Country has done this for me, and I found my place in life. I really did. The minute I started talking about this dream, everybody was on board, and I’ll never be able to thank the people of the High Country for doing that for me.”
Photos courtesy of the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation.