Y-Me Abrupt Closing Leaves Many Unanswered Questions…And More Importantly, Unanswered Phonecalls from People With Breast Cancer

4/19/2013 UPDATE: If you are looking for information on the annual Mother’s Day walk/run, Komen’s Chicago affiliate has apparently taken over this event. See: http://www.komenchicago.org/about-us/news/MothersDay_RFTC.html

 

Yesterday Y-Me abruptly closed its doors. Its website is no longer online. A statement posted yesterday said, in part: “There are no words to express the sadness we all feel but we felt it important that you hear this news from us directly. Thank you for everything you have done for Y-ME over the years.”

Founded in 1978 in Homew00d-Flossmoor, IL,  the group went from a two-women operation at a kitchen table to a national non-profit with support groups throughout the United States. It is probably best known for its hotline, “the only place in the world where someone touched by breast cancer can call – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – to talk to a breast cancer survivor and be understood in 150 different languages,” according to Y-Me promotions. Y-Me’s hotline fielded 40,000 calls annually.

I have never talked to Y-Me hotline volunteers as a patient. But last year  I was invited to attend a metastatic breast cancer training session. The materials and presenters were excellent.  The volunteers  were wonderful people, just exactly the right people you’d want doing this.

Y-Me’s mission was  “to ensure through information, empowerment and peer support that no one faces breast cancer alone.”  Today, a call to Y-Me’s hotline–a number disseminated across hundreds of cancer related sites and countless breast cancer navigator’s offices, yielded only a busy signal. No message. No referral for someone who might be in crisis.

Callers will face breast cancer alone, after all.*

How could this happen?

“A serious cash flow problem stemming from an unexpected cash flow crisis and low revenues from our major fundraisers put the organization in financial instability,” Maureen Durack, a Y-ME board member, told  Fox Chicago News.

Y-Me’s has hosted an annual Mother’s Day walk/run event in Chicago’s Grant Park for the past two decades. Last May’s event drew 30,000 participants. On the day of the event, Y-ME CEO Cindy Geoghegan, told the Chicago Sun-Times Art Golab: “But what [we] were not as sure of is that we met our goal of money and we think some of that could be attributed to all of the controversies in breast cancer community.”

The Sun-Times further reported that the 2011 event raised  nearly $3 million, more than half of Y-ME’s budget. The 2012 goal was $3.5 million. Geoghegan told the Golab she’d didn’t think her Y-Me would achieve that figure; subsequent reports indicated the 2012 event tallied $2 million in funds.

While it would be convenient to blame fallout from this past spring’s Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy, it seems likely that Y-Me’s issues were longer standing. When Geoghegan came onboard two years ago, she restored the Y-Me name (it had been changed to Breast Cancer Network of Strength). Lacking any statement from Y-Me or access to its financial statements, we don’t know.

If Geoghegan knew in May that the situation was dire, why were no contingency plans in place?

For a group that prided itself on communication, Y-Me’s silence is baffling. Thousands of people and many corporations supported their annual drives. They deserve better. More importantly, the person who is reeling from a breast cancer diagnosis deserves better than a perpetual busy signal.

*UPDATE NO. 1:  Janine Guglielmino from Living Beyond Breast Cancer reminds us that LBBC has a Helpline:  “Our Helpline (like Y-ME’s) is staffed by volunteers who have had breast cancer. They go through a rigorous three-day training and get ongoing education. We answer the phones live on Tuesdays from 11-3, and we answer calls within 24 hours at all other times. We can match people the same age or with the same diagnosis. Our Helpline number is (888) 753-LBBC (5222), or women can request a call online at http://www.lbbc.org/Learning-From-Others/Survivors-Helpline.”

*UPDATE NO. 2: ABC 7’s Stacey Baca’s July 13 report included the following additional details:

>A board member for the Y-Me breast cancer organization says the group expects to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon.

>Saturday morning, Y-Me will e-blast its donors, volunteers, and supporters, to thank them, and tell them that it is official: Y-Me is no longer.

>“Did we know there were some financial issues? Yes. But did we believe they could be solved? Yes,” said Margaret Harte, the founder of Y-Me’s signature fundraiser, the annual race on Mother’s Day, and a two-time breast cancer survivor.

>This year, more than 20,000 women took part in the race, raising about $2 million, but board member and former executive director Sharon Green says it was not enough money to sustain the hotline.

>Financially, Y-Me was strapped. According to Charity Navigator, a non-profit that tracks 501-c-3s, Y-Me was in the hole $1.6 million for fiscal year 2011.

>The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says the group did not meet 5 of its 20 standards – mainly, it didn’t provide an annual report to the BBB.

*UPDATE NO. 3: WBEZ’s Jewell Washington’s July 16 report included the following:

>Y-ME is being accused of financial collapse due to money mismanagement.

>Its board of directors confirmed on Monday that it [Y-Me] is filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

>“I think the failure of the organization was decisions made five or six years ago about real estate leases, etc. etc.,…and really poor management,” Margaret Harte said, a longtime volunteer and the founder of the group’s annual Race at Your Pace.. .“I am appalled that people can sit on boards and do nothing and then make decisions that totally wipe out, destroy the work of many people,” she said.

*UPDATE NO. 4: Chicago Sun-Times Art Golab and Dave McKinney’s July 17 article offers these details:

>“I don’t believe there was any wrongdoing,” [Sharon Green, Y-Me’s first executive director and a current board member] said. “It’s just an economic situation that they’ve been dealing with for some time, and it got to be very difficult to meet the monthly bills.”

> Asked what happened to the funds raised by the recent race, Green said, “None of that money was wasted. That money was used to keep the hotline going as long as we could. Nobody bought cars or anything like that; it was used for important programs. It just couldn’t be sustained

>Y-Me IRS forms  show contributions plummeted from $16.7 million in 2007 to $5.2 million in 2010.

>Former Y-Me CEO Margaret Kirk was paid $231,000 in 2009, her last full year on the job. The next CEO was paid $120,000 for part of 2010, according to the forms.

>An audit released Monday by Attorney General [Lisa] Madigan’s office showed Y-Me’s investments carried a value of $803,204 as of June 30, 2011, down from $1.5 million a year earlier. This indicates either investment losses or that the money was used to pay expenses.

> Volunteer and race founder] Harte said Y-Me had overexpanded and leased office space it could not afford [in Chicago] and in other cities.
WE SAY:

This past January, Hull House, a landmark  Chicago social services organization founded by Jane Addams in 1889, closes its doors. Hull House received some government support; Y-Me most likely did not. Beyond that, these non-profits seem to have much in common.

Hull House board chairman Steven Saunders blamed the economy and attendant declining government support for Hull House’s demise.  Saunders told the Chronicle of Philanthropy (as cited by Rick Moyers) that financial reports prepared by management had sugar-coated the situation and that because staff members had maintained a positive attitude, the board failed to understand the magnitude of the financial problems until they were too large to solve.

Clarence Wood—a former chief executive of Hull House —faulted the board for not grasping the concept of “living on the edge.”  Wood told  the Chronicle of Philanthropy   “the reason the staff members like me were staying positive in attitude was that we are very used to social-service agencies always being on the brink of destruction.”

In his February 27, 2012 commentary,  Moyers,  co-author of A Snapshot of America’s Nonprofit Boards, the first national nonprofit governance survey, observed that responsible governance requires a strong partnership between the board and the chief executive:

 Hull House is a sobering case study of governance failure in which neither the board nor the staff seems to have recognized the crisis while there was still time to turn things around.

Hull House’s situation was far from unusual. Thousands of nonprofit organizations are heavily dependent on government financial support, have no operating reserves or are in debt, and are seeing increased demand for services.

The executives and boards of these organizations need to recognize that being perpetually on the brink of destruction is not normal or sustainable, and it does a tremendous disservice to an organization’s mission and the people it serves.

Without more financial discernment on the part of boards, a more honest and candid partnership between boards and executives, and bolder actions while there’s still time, more organizations are going to fold.

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22 thoughts on “Y-Me Abrupt Closing Leaves Many Unanswered Questions…And More Importantly, Unanswered Phonecalls from People With Breast Cancer

  1. Hi, Katherine. Thank you as always for your helpful blog. I work at Living Beyond Breast Cancer and we too were sad to hear about Y-ME. We’ve been very busy since the news hit, preparing our volunteers to take more calls. I’m sure we’ll learn more as time goes on.

    I wasn’t sure if you knew our organization has a Helpline–we have had it for 16 years.Our Helpline (like Y-ME’s) is staffed by volunteers who have had breast cancer. They go through a rigorous three-day training and get ongoing education. We answer the phones live on Tuesdays from 11-3, and we answer calls within 24 hours at all other times. We can match people the same age or with the same diagnosis. Our Helpline number is (888) 753-LBBC (5222), or women can request a call online at http://www.lbbc.org/Learning-From-Others/Survivors-Helpline. I just don’t want anyone to think they have nowhere to go. Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Helpline is still here, and we are ready to help.

  2. I’m sorry to hear this news, but can’t say I’m surprised. Numerous times, including this week’s post, I’ve blogged that in our “blind fury” over Komen and pink marketing, we need to be careful we don’t shut down funding of truly worthy organizations. http://bit.ly/RPWTFV

  3. Thank you for letting people know about this. It is certainly bewildering … and it is disconcerting to persons, who regularly counted on the organization for support. Finally, it is troublesome to those who donated to them over the past year.

    NOTE: The latest revision of their bylaws would clarify the dispersement of funds upon dissolution of the organization.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Katherine. It is a shame to lose a 24-hour hotline with skillfully trained people to give information and support. It appears there is a back story that is yet to come to light. BBB Wise Giving Alliance reports inadequate budget oversight, assessment, and reporting.

    http://www.bbb.org/charity-reviews/national/cancer/y-me-national-breast-cancer-organization-in-chicago-il-1733

    Y-Me has been a vital part of the breast cancer movement, and was involved in the planning of the National Breast Cancer Coalition the early 90s. Its focus was really direct services, but in the new charity world with such an emphasis on fundraising and brand bling, it may not have been able to keep up. The organization changed its name in 2008 to the BC Network of Strength but changed it back again to Y-Me in 2011.

    I would not imagine that the Komen/Planned Parenthood scandal would have had anything to do with this. The public is wary about where to spend money (and rightly so), but they still want to help. If anything, Y-Me’s events may have been crowded out. I hope we learn more soon.

    –Gayle Sulik

  5. Cathy Hirsch says:

    As a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for patient support, I am very saddened by this turn of events. Y-ME has helped countless breast cancer patients over the last 35 years and will be greatly missed. For those facing breast cancer, help is still available through the American Cancer Society. The ACS offers free breast cancer resources and support programs, such as information, lodging, transportation, and, through Reach to Recovery, one-to-one peer support. Call 1-800-227-2345 for immediate assistance.

    Cathy Hirsch, America Cancer Society Reach to Recovery volunteer.

  6. jeanne says:

    I just called Y-ME and got the busy signal I thought they must be busy cause there are so many of us that need them. I have stage four been shaking all day got two shots in the ass yesterday and knew they could answer some important questions i had. i used to call others first with my questions then i would remember to call them and they always got me the info i needed. I am at the least hopeless right now everyone else u call says sure if there’s something we could do call am I’m like yeah that’s what I’m doing then you hear the click. Ihatebreastcancer.

    • Jeanne, I’m so sorry you’re getting that click and that busy signal. Won’t you please consider calling LBBC’s Helpline at (888) 753-5222? We don’t have a person answering live today (Wednesday), but leave a message and someone will call you back within 24 hours. We have lots of women with mets on our Helpline, and we’ve even been in touch with some of the Y-ME volunteers who contacted us since the closure. When you leave your message, let the volunteer know you used to use Y-ME’s Helpline and Janine from LBBC sent you our number.

      If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable calling LBBC, there are some other good hotlines out there. SHARE runs one at 866-891-2392. We will get you someone to talk to!

  7. katherinembc says:

    For the past four years, Kathy Rath and fellow golfers with the Pinecrest Women’s Golf Association spent months organizing and staging a charity tournament benefitting Y-Me. This year’s event on June 2 featured dozens of sponsors and contributors and raised more than $16,000.

    An email from a Chicago-based Y-Me director shows they received the check June 25…

    “It was like I was kicked in the teeth,” Rath said. “My stomach sank thinking all the effort, all the time — all of the effort from my committee members, from our league, from the community, from so many of our friends that donated to help Y-Me.”

    http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Group-Wonders-Where-Donation-Went-After-Breast-Cancer-Support-Groups-Shutdown-162811436.html

  8. katherinembc says:

    The organization filed a Chapter 7 petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Northern District of Illinois on Tuesday. The petition listed assets of between $100,001 to $500,000 and debts of $500,001 to $1 million.

    It also estimates that the organization’s creditors total from 50 to 99. But an attachment lists more than 300 potential creditors, including the City of Chicago.
    http://www.suntimes.com/business/13857456-420/y-me-files-for-bankruptcy-with-500000-or-less-in-assets.html

  9. After the unfortunate closing of Y-Me, a lot of people seeking support for breast cancer may feel they have no place to turn. We wanted to be sure that you, your staff, and your volunteers are aware that callers wanting to speak with a breast cancer survivor can call SHARE at 866-891-2392.

    At SHARE, we operate a toll-free Breast Cancer Helpline staffed by survivors trained to provide support and encouragement, answer questions, and help callers sort through options and make informed decisions. We can also connect callers with survivors who have had similar experiences. Our helpline is answered live from Monday through Friday, 9:30 AM-5:30 PM. Callers can leave messages at any time of the day or night and calls are returned within 24 hours, but usually sooner.

    SHARE BREAST CANCER HELPLINE
    866-891-2392
    Staffed by trained survivors
    Calls answered live Monday-Friday, 9:30 AM-5:30 PM (or leave a message and your call will be returned within 24 hours)

    If you have questions, please feel free to contact Donna Faranda at (212) 937-5577 or dfaranda@sharecancersupport.org. Together, we can work to support more people affected by breast cancer.

    Sincerely,

    Donna Faranda
    Help Line Coordinator, SHARE

  10. katherinembc says:

    By Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune reporter

    July 23, 2012

    Back in 1978, when Y-Me began in the south suburbs, information on breast cancer was scarce. A new patient often would receive little more than a brochure from her doctor, then be sent home to cope with a life-altering disease rarely discussed in polite company.

    But in 2012, the landscape for breast cancer patients is vastly different. The Internet can instantly connect a woman with experts and others grappling with similar questions. Organizations offering social and emotional support are ubiquitous. In fact, a flurry of subsets meet the needs of special populations, ranging from African-Americans to LGBT.

    The silence has been replaced by a bewildering cacophony of nonprofits, which experts said may have contributed to the demise of Y-Me, the Chicago-based national organization that filed for bankruptcy Tuesday and shuttered its operations.

    “There are just so many avenues now to receive information that weren’t around even 20 years ago,” said Janine Gauthier, a clinical health psychologist and director of Rush University Medical Center’s Cancer Integrative Medicine Program. “You can literally find information anywhere.”

    And therein lies part of the problem, fundraisers say. In good times, everyone can stay afloat. But in a dismal economy recovering in fits and starts, there are simply too many cancer organizations with overlapping missions vying for the same donors.

    [snip]
    However, Y-Me was one of the pioneers, running the only multilingual, 24-hour breast cancer hotline in the country, staffed entirely by trained volunteers who were also survivors. The first phone lines were in the south suburban homes of founders Mimi Kaplan and Ann Marcou, who died in 1982 and 2004, respectively.

    In its bankruptcy petition, Y-Me estimated it had assets of $100,001 to $500,000 and liabilities of $500,001 to $1 million.

    “It’s very sad, very emotional,” said Sharon Green, the first CEO and a current board member. She acknowledged that Y-Me “recognized the saturation” and began trimming its portfolio, focusing solely on the hotline.

    “Despite the new technologies, there simply is nothing that can replace the human touch and compassion that Y-Me provided with real people,” she said.

    Still, leaders tried to compete by expanding education programming, affiliates and other strategies that required adding staff, equipment and other expenses. “Once the money dried up, we were left with costly liabilities,” Green explained.

    A little more than a year ago, Y-Me started closing all programs except the hotline and trimming the infrastructure. “We just couldn’t do it quickly enough,” Green said.

    Patrick Rooney, director of the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, said the sluggish economy has certainly taken its toll in the nonprofit sector, just as it has on businesses, and everyone is competing for both consumers and donors. “This story is more common than we know, with many charities closing every day, with little fanfare.”

    Between the start of the recession in 2007 and 2009, total giving dropped by more than 10 percent, and while the situation has improved during the last two years, it will take another decade to return to 2007 levels, he said.

    “There will be nonprofit boards that will say, ‘Based on what we see today, we’re underwater financially … and we don’t see a robust recovery on the horizon anytime soon.”

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-cancer-organizations-20120723,0,7147044.story?dssReturn

  11. arline says:

    I am one of the peer counselors from Y-ME that is deeply saddened by recent events. I have been on the hotline for 30 years. In the early days, Ann would call me at home with a name and number for me to call. Most often, due to my age, I called young women who were recently diagnosed. I called hundreds of women…thirty years later I have spoken to thousands probably. There is nothing equal to talking to another survivor and having someone truly understand how you feel. Nothing ON-LINE will do that. So my heart is very sad because Y-ME gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to be that voice on the other end for hope. Being angry about “mismanagement” etc. won’t help now….I just hope we can rise again…We have the troops!

  12. Shirleen Jackson says:

    Hi,my name is Shirleen,and i live in Chicago i am sadden to learn that the Y-me race for breast cancer has closed its doors after 21yrs. This event has helped me in many ways to connect to my mom who past away from this dreadful disease back in 1983. It allowed me to connect with other survivors,and love one who wanted to do something in remembrance of those who did not make it,and for those who continue to fight for the cure. My heart goes out to those who are still fighting.Remember there is a silver lining at the end of the rainbow.

    Much love at the finish line

    Shirleen

  13. katherinembc says:

    Y-Me “Alums” regroup: Today, all calls placed to Y-ME’s former 800 number and visits to its web site are directed to ABCD and ABCD has begun to work closely with many of the breast cancer treatment centers that relied on Y-ME. “Staffed” by original ABCD Mentors and Y-ME “Alumnae” who have all completed special ABCD Helpline training, Helpline Mentors provide immediate emotional support and reliable information about the breast cancer and survivorship journey. Helpline Mentors can also easily connect callers with ABCD staff for quick customized one-to-one support from a Match Mentor – someone whose breast cancer journey is matched to the caller’s. Match Mentors then provide ongoing support.

    Helpline hours will expand as additional members of the existing ABCD 300+ Mentor Corps complete Helpline training. Later in 2013, ABCD will host new mentor training in multiple locations throughout the country.
    http://www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org/2012/10/abcd-mentors-former-y-me-peer-counselors-team-up/

  14. I miss yme as a breast cabcer survuvor yme was the organization i called two days after i was diagnoed with breast cancer i liked talking to the counselors they were very comforting and had alot of knowledge i plan to be a counselor for abcd that is my goal as a survivor because i know the feeling of hearing you have been diagnosed with cancer

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