Avon Walk Interview and 10th Birthday Celebration!

I was approached by the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer with an opportunity to interview one of their executives. Since I wasn’t able to fit an in-person interview into my schedule, I did an email interview with Eloise Caggiano, Program Director, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

Before I get to the interview, I wanted to let everyone know about the Avon Walk’s 10th Birthday Party coming up on Saturday, February 4th. The Avon Walk is celebrating in all of the nine walk cities nationwide. If you’re interested in learning more about walking, participating as a crew member, or even if you’re an alum, the party will be a great opportunity to kick off the 2012 Avon Walk season. You can also register at a discounted rate! I’ve already signed up to attend in Boston. More information can be found here about the locations of the celebration.

And now, on to the interview. I hope you find it informative and interesting. If you have any questions about the Avon Walk, feel free to email me. If you’d like to donate to my walk, you can do so here.

How did you become involved in the Avon Walk?
Going through something like breast cancer really helps put things in perspective. I was working very hard at the time I was diagnosed, and thought to myself: “If I’m going to work this hard, I want to feel really good about it at the end of the day.” I was looking for a more rewarding, fulfilling career and a way to give back. I knew I wanted to move into the non-profit world and while it wasn’t a requirement that my new job be breast cancer related, I was hoping it would be. It took a little while to find the right thing, but when the position at the Avon Foundation for Women became available, I knew I wanted it! It is so rewarding to be able to take my experience with breast cancer and put it to good use in my career. To know that the work we do is helping women and men who are facing a diagnosis have a better chance for survival, is really special to me.

How are the cities chosen for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer?
It’s more complicated than you’d think! We currently have nine Walks across the country in some really fantastic cities. We make some tough choices in determining where to schedule the Avon Walk events, creating a schedule that allows us to produce enjoyable, safe and successful events within our resources and in areas that can support an event of this magnitude (choosing the perfect venues for our Opening and Closing Ceremonies, an overnight campsite, coordinating 39 miles of safe and interesting walking routes, etc.), while giving as many people as possible a chance to participate. Even if there is an Avon Walk in their own city, many of our participants choose to travel to different Avon Walks — what a great way to experience a new city!

What’s your favorite walk city?
As the program director for the Avon Walk events, I don’t think I’m allowed to play favorites! I travel to all nine of our Walks each year and can truly say each one is incredible in its own way. For example, our Rocky Mountains Walk is absolutely gorgeous, the scenery is breathtaking; our Washington DC Walk gives you a great tour of an incredibly historic city; our Avon Walk Charlotte takes you through some of the most charming and beautiful neighborhoods; our New York Walk is our biggest of the season (and it’s my hometown!) so that’s always an exciting one for me…but no matter which city you choose, you are going to have an amazing Avon Walk weekend and most importantly, you’ll be raising money and awareness that will help in the fight against breast cancer.

Who lays out the routes? Are they the same from year to year? How is the route mileage measured?
All of the Avon Walks are two days and 39.3 miles. We work with the local police departments, city organizations and parks departments to develop a safe and interesting route for our participants. We try hard to give you a really nice tour of the city you are in and we are always looking for ways to improve the experience, so while our routes are often similar form year to year, we are always trying to fine-tune the route to make it the best it can be.

How much money has the Avon Walk raised since its first year?
This is our 10th birthday season this year! Since the Walks’ launch in 2003, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Series has raised more than $423 million, which is fantastic. The Avon Foundation for Women has donated $47 million to organizations and institutions in New England alone, which is really nice for our Boston Walkers and Crew to know that so much money stays in their area.

How many people have walked the Avon Walk since the beginning?
Nearly 160,000 participating women and men across the country that have walked a total of 5.3 million miles since 2003 – the equivalent of 210 times around Earth!

What’s the best advice you’ve given or heard for first-time walkers?
Oh there are so many good things I can tell them! Here are just a few:
• “You can do it!” Many people think they can’t walk all of the miles or raise all of the money, but they can! We provide a lot of support along the way, from training walks to fundraising clinics, to help set each person up for success. And the good thing is, the Avon Walk is not a race and it is not competitive – you can walk at your own pace and if you don’t finish all the miles, that’s okay with us!
• “Don’t ask…don’t get!” Many people are shy about asking for donations. But I always remind them of two things. 1) they are not asking for themselves, they are asking for money that will help so many other people, and 2) you will likely need to ask people more than once. Many people intend to donate, but then it slips their mind. Don’t hold back! Ask, and ask again. You’ll be surprised at how many people truly want to support the cause. And if you don’t ask….you don’t get any donations!
• “You’ll never walk alone” Some people hesitate to register for an Avon Walk if they don’t have someone to do it with them. But rest assured that we have MANY walkers who sign up on their own and by the end of the experience they will have met so many amazing people and made new friends. One of my favorite parts of being at these events is getting out on the route and talking to people! There is always someone to talk to and walk with. Many of our teams welcome in our “solo” Walkers – it’s such a great community of people!

How often do you wear pink?
It’s a good thing I like pink, because I wear a LOT of it! At our nine Avon Walk events, for three days straight I’m wearing pink, usually several layers of pink because we start very early in the morning when it is often chilly so I’m always layered up! When I’m not at the Avon Walks, I wear some pink, and have a lot of pink accessories (everything from socks, to my phone case). But I am also surrounded in pink at my office, with Avon Walk pictures, posters, and more everywhere. I even have a big ribbon made out of pink Christmas lights hanging by my desk!

What about those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Why do some walks not have them?
The peanut butter and jelly graham cracker sandwiches are so addicting! Our participants go crazy for them! I even have a friend who has asked me to smuggle a few home from a Walk for her! On the rare (and very sad) occasion, the company we get them from runs out of inventory, we have to substitute them with another snack. The first time it happened, I was worried there would be riots! (I’m only half kidding!) We do our best to keep our Walkers happy.

What’s your favorite part of walk weekend? 
Well, I already mentioned how I love being out on the route in each city walking with everyone and meeting new people. I get to hear such amazing and inspiring stories, and also just get to meet some really interesting folks. But another favorite of mine is our Closing Ceremony. Once everyone completes the walk, they have such an amazing sense of accomplishment – not only because of the miles they walked, or the money they raised, but also because they know they’re making a difference, what they just did will help saves people’s lives. Our Ceremony is a great celebration of all they’ve accomplished and when they see the big checks presented on stage to our beneficiaries who are literally fighting breast cancer right now, it is so rewarding! For two days and 39 miles we all come together with one shared mission—to end breast cancer once and for all—and the Closing Ceremony is a great way to end our special weekend together.

What are some of the most creative fundraising tactics you’ve seen?
Our Avon Walk participants are some pretty savvy and creative fundraisers! Some keep it simple and stick to traditional fundraising letters and emails. Others have parties at their house and charge everyone $20 that goes towards their fundraising. Some will do a car wash, or bake sale, or make jewelry to sell. Some will do raffles or auctions. The ideas are endless! And if someone is in need of ideas, we have tons of them! We also try to make fundraising as easy as possible by giving each participant their own personal web page. We also have social media tools that help you raise money via Facebook or your iPhone, we offer fundraising clinics, and more!

Do people get more nervous about the training for the 39.3 miles or raising the $1800? Which do you think is harder? 
 It really varies for each person. For some, the physical challenge of walking up to 39.3 miles is an accomplishment they never thought they could achieve. For others–especially those who have never fundraised before — the idea of raising money is daunting. But one thing is common among them all: there is such a feeling of pride knowing that the money and awareness they raised is going to help people get the breast cancer care they need, regardless of their ability to pay for it and will help researchers continue their quest for a cure.

For some, the challenge of completing the Avon Walk is their way to pay tribute to those who are battling breast cancer right now, and you will often hear people saying “Sure, I’m exhausted, but what I’m feeling now is nothing compared to what my mom went through with chemo.” The hundreds of breast cancer survivors walking by their sides (some of whom are in the midst of their treatments) are a source of inspiration and a reminder of why we need to keep walking. For others the accomplishment lies in knowing they have done a wonderful thing in memory of someone they’ve lost to this disease. When you learn that someone you love has been diagnosed, you can feel helpless, and for many of those people, participating in an Avon Walk is a way to help, a way to do something and a way to show their support. Whether they walk 9 miles or 39 miles; whether they raise $1,800 or $18,000 — every single Avon Walk participant is making a difference.

Which crew job is the most fun (or most requested)?
It depends on who you ask! Some of our Crew are so loyal and come back year after year and want the same Crew job – even if it’s a tough one! Some of them love to be on our Food Service team and feed the hungry and tired Walkers a hot meal. Some of them love to be on the Gear and Tent Crew because they know how much the Walkers appreciate not having to lug their own stuff around. The Walkers are so appreciative of all the Crew teams. They especially love our Moto Crew – these are great men and women who are on their motorcycles at some of the bigger intersections to make sure Walkers get across safely. They are fantastic–some of them wear crazy costumes, or tell silly jokes, anything to put a big smile on the Walkers faces!

What is your favorite memory from being involved with the Avon Walk?
Oh gosh – there have been so many amazing moments! I wish I could list the name of every single person I’ve met at an Avon Walk, because each of them has made this a special experience for me. Their stories, their dedication, their passion — it’s just incredible! I absolutely love when I meet someone who has benefited from the programs we fund with money raised at the Avon Walks — like a survivor who was able to get the breast cancer treatment she needed or a mammogram even though she did not have insurance. It is living proof that we are doing amazing work, that we are making a difference! Meeting the other survivors is always significant for me — especially when I meet the “big number” survivors, like this fabulous woman Deb who is a 25 year survivor! It gives me such hope, and they are so inspiring! Recently, I was talking to a women who was very recently diagnosed and she was asking a lot of questions about my experience and my perspective now as compared to how I felt 6 years ago when I first went though it and she said, “Wow – I’m so glad I’m talking to you. You are making me feel so much better! Knowing that you went through all of these same things, worried about the same things is making me feel less crazy!” So knowing that just by talking to people that I’m helping them in some small way, means so much to me.

What do you think makes the walk different from other fundraising activities?
I think it is the incredible sense of community at the Avon Walk that really makes it special. All of these amazing people coming from all walks of life, all parts of the country (and beyond), all ages, shapes and sizes – they would likely never cross paths otherwise, but for one weekend they are united, one big family, knowing that together they are an unstoppable force in the fight against breast cancer.

What percent of walkers have walked before? What about crew members?
We love our Avon Walk “alumni”! We have Walkers and Crew who come back year after year after year…starting with our very first Walk in 2003! We have some participants who do several Avon Walks per year, some who chose a different city each year – they are a wonderful and loyal group! It varies per city and from year to year, but a fair estimate would be that at least 25% of our participants each year are alumni.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Every three minutes someone in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every three minutes! If you don’t know someone who has been affected by this disease, then chances are, you will. Every person diagnosed is someone’s mother, sister, best friend, or even brother. We have to change these statistics and we are really trying, but we need your help. Participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Boston (or any of our other cities!) is a way to help raise much-needed money and awareness for this deadly disease. For two days you will walk and you will laugh. You will meet amazing people with amazing stories, who really, really want to hear your story too. You will make new friends and become closer to those you already have. Whether you walk 20 miles, or finish all 39.3 miles of the Avon Walk, you will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment not only for what you physically achieved, but because you know that you are making a difference. The money you raise will help researchers continue their quest for better treatments, preventions and a cure. And it will help people get the breast cancer care and treatment they need, regardless of their ability to pay for it. It sounds cliché, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true: participating in the Avon Walk is a life-changing experience. I see it time and time again.

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