The Fight Goes Punk Rock

Anjali Health Guide
  • For Breast Cancer Awareness month we are starting a feature to highlight different organizations who work in the field, either raising money, awareness, or doing a multitude of outreach activities. This week I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Beemer founder of the Syrentha J. Savio Endowment (SSE), and their fundraising arm Shirts For A Cure (SFAC).


    Mark started SSE after his wife, Syrentha Savio, succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 31. He was talking to a friend going through a divorce about loss, and started SSE partly as grief therapy. They started out small, throwing fundraising dinners and sponsoring walks. Syrentha worked at AOL at the time of diagnosis, and many of her coworkers donated their stock options to raise money for the endowment. Before they knew it, they had raised $50,000, but things didn't seem to come together till SFAC became a reality.

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    Mark and Syrentha had always been part of the punk rock scene. When Mark got his friends Kid Dynamite to reunite to raise money for SSE, and they raised 20,000 in 3 days, he realized it was the first event he had thrown that really felt right. But it still was not enough. Self-described as "not a button-down kind of guy," a lover of t-shirts, and the general ‘give-back' culture embodied in punk rock, brainstorming with some friends, the idea to get bands to sell t-shirts to raise money for the endowment came about and SFAC was born as the fundraising arm of the SSE.


    Mark started to approach friends in bands to donate the proceeds of t-shirt sales to the endowment. As respected bands joined SFAC, younger bands also came on board. Today, for $12 (and S&H if you buy online), you can buy one of over 150 shirts with more designs always on the way.


    The driving philosophy behind both organizations is a strong commitment to DIY. SSE donates money to local clinics and centers that help women get the treatment they need to fight cancer. The endowment does not provide blanket gifts, so money donated cannot be used to buy pens and paper says Mark. "Even if we help just one woman, we want to make a tangible difference in her life." The gifts are for treatment, to cover things like the 90-day gap between Medicare and Medicaid, or to cover pharmacy costs. "When Syrentha was diagnosed, she worked at AOL surrounded by smart women who cared a lot about each other. She got all the days off she needed, she never had to take her vacation days. She had great health coverage. We were very lucky, and I know that all women are not that lucky."


    Moving forward, as the music industry undergoes severe culture shifts, Mark recognizes that SFAC may not always be around. Two years ago, SSE started really engaging in educational activities. He really wanted young women, especially those around Syrentha's age, to be more aware of their bodies and the threat of cancer. He wanted to hand out something useful with his shirts. When he looked to see what materials were available, he realized that they were out of date and unappealing to young women. He had a friend redesign the shower card teaching women how to perform self breast exams with images of a young woman with tattoos. Mark is hoping to reach out to college age women and is launching partnerships with interested groups at universities and colleges to distribute the shower cards in unique and unconventional ways. The shower cards are free to those interested in participating in the program. In addition, they are publishing calendars and shoes (the insoles are imprinted with the shower card reminders).


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    This fight is definitely punk rock. Like Mark says, "It's not your mother's disease."


Published On: October 14, 2009