JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – When children in Johnstown are diagnosed with cancer, the emotional toll on their families comes with the cost of gas to travel to treatment centers in Pittsburgh several times a week for months or even years. , said nurse Marlene Singer.
Johnstown residents battling cancer may have overdue payments for drugs, utilities or mortgages.
As Johnstown MS Walk coordinator, Singer works to ease those financial worries.
The nonprofit Johnstown Walk of Hope was created in 2016 out of what Singer saw as a need to generate funds for the daily lives of local cancer patients.
In the early years of the walk, the amount of money raised was not large, Singer said, but the important thing was that it all benefited local patients in some way.
Now, seven years later, the Walk of Hope has implemented a system that makes financial resources available to patients at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.
“We paid electric bills, car payments, mortgages, taxes so people wouldn’t lose their homes,” she said. “It’s the day-to-day needs of cancer patients that are on their minds.”
And for families driving to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, the MS Walk provides Giant Eagle gift cards to help cover gas costs.
Hundreds of people are expected to fill Greater Johnstown High School’s Trojan Stadium beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday for the seventh Johnstown MS Walk. The march begins at 9 am with a blessing, followed by a brief ceremony of remembrance and the presentation of the teams participating in the march.
Aside from those involved in the teams, there is no registration necessary and donations of any amount are accepted at the door.
“Last year we made $69,000, and this year it will be close to $100,000,” Singer said. “It’s crazy when you think about it. It all started with a small walk that raised $30,000.
“The generosity of this community is overwhelming. I think we’ve been able to grow so quickly because people see the good it does for their loved ones or someone in their church or their school and they want to give back.
In 2016, Singer set up a fund with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to manage donations, and her primary contact at the nonprofit was Katrina Perkosky, the foundation’s donor services and development manager.
“What’s so wonderful about her is that she doesn’t think ‘No’ when she does something she thinks is important. She just does it,” Perkosky said of Singer, ” and she is so good at bringing people on board to help.
Singer coordinates walking and fundraising efforts throughout the year, whether she’s organizing a program at a local school or traveling around town delivering flowers for the Daffodil Fundraiser. organization.
“There’s so much she does beyond walking, which is a huge ordeal in itself,” Perkosky said. “I don’t know how she has time to do everything.”
Perkosky, a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed in March 2019.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, she was the first person I called,” Perkosky said. “I only knew her from work, but I knew she could help me.”
Perkosky said Singer answered the phone and offered to meet her immediately.
“‘What are you doing? I want to take you to lunch,'” Perkosky recalled Singer telling him.
Working with MS Walk prepared Perkosky when she was diagnosed.
“You don’t know how difficult it is,” she says. “It’s very expensive. The work that Marlene has done is to empower people who are already fighting for their lives to focus on their health and not worry about how to keep the lights on.
Singer was born and raised in Johnstown.
“I was in my 20s when my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer and she was leading a very healthy lifestyle,” Singer said. “She was much older when she had a second cancer. She wanted people to know her story because it was about being in touch with her own health and knowing when something was wrong and making sure doctors did the necessary tests to get a diagnosis. That’s when I started doing more education and fundraising for cancer patients. The Johnstown MS Walk was born out of a need for money to stay local.
Singer has 30 years of nursing experience and served as Community Health Coordinator for the Conemaugh Health System from 2004 to 2018.
“I’ve done awareness, prevention, health education throughout my nursing career,” she says. “I was able to meet so many people from different walks of life who are truly inspiring when you hear their stories. The rewarding part is seeing the money raised reach the people who need it. In a world where there are so many donations, you don’t always know where they are going, so the most rewarding part for me is seeing people being taken care of.
The singer said she hopes the walk continues to thrive for many years to come.
“I’m the strongest believer and I’ve seen the power that community support can bring to someone,” she said. “I believe no one goes through their daily life without some level of support from someone. For cancer patients, knowing that there is a whole systematic framework in place of support for them is what I think makes a difference.