The Little Engine that Does : You haven’t heard of the Comunale foundation? Let’s change that
by Jessica Kaisk
It isn’t a secret on purpose, it’s more that it operates so efficiently on the sidelines that no one really knows about it. Monica Stevens, Executive Director of the Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation, is an Akron angel. She and Colleen Iacianci, who handles the social media for the nonprofit, are in it for the people, and it shows in everything that they do.
We are all affected by cancer, whether it is yourself or someone you know. “You know someone we have helped; you just don’t know they asked for help,” Iacianci says.
The Stephen A. Comunale, Jr. Family Cancer Foundation is a nonprofit organized in honor of Stevens’ nephew, Stephen, his aunt Amy Comunale Klein, and his mother Jane Comunale. Cancer took all three of their lives. Stephen Comunale, Jr. was only 29 when he passed away. If there ever was a family who saw the ravages of cancer, and what it does to a family, they know it. But when talking about the foundation, Stevens says, “It’s not about our story, it’s about them.”
The foundation raises money through private donations to help families in desperate need of financial assistance. “Not everyone has a family to rally around them, to be there and help them with things they might need, and if we can help someone even a little bit, then we will,” says Stevens.
And they do. All the money raised by local private donors goes to local families in Summit County and surrounding areas. What’s better is that they have not had to turn down anyone for help. With an average of 15-20 applications to go through a week, that is a lot of families, especially with only one staff member.
That’s right, Stevens is the only full-time staffer! Talk about your little engine that could, would, and does! From stuffing their Sunshine Bags for newly diagnosed cancer patients, to Sibling Bags for children, to day-to-day operations, Stevens does it all. She has a great board, too, with members from the Comunale family and close family friends. “There is a great philanthropic community in Akron, and we are lucky enough to benefit from it,” Stevens says about her board.
It is invigorating to know that Akron has such a big, helping heart. The foundation hosts programs such as the Summa Screens, Camp Days, Art Therapy, and so much more. “Holiday Meals is my favorite program” Iacianci says. This provides over 400 meals every holiday season, and volunteers pack and deliver them. From children to the elderly, those interested get a meal when they otherwise would have to dine alone. “One of my favorites was when an elderly woman wrote me a thank you note for the meal, saying she contacted her sister for the first time in 12 years, and set a place for Stephen at her table.”
The foundation also helps families with everyday needs. Looking through applications, they try to balance true need with what they can financially fund. Some of the more surprising things they help with are food, childcare, Ensure or Depends, air conditioners for respiratory patients, or—for one woman—a hot water tank. “She went all winter with no hot water while going through cancer treatments, and her son couldn’t shower at home. So, through contacts, we got a hot water tank,” Stevens says.
When asked how she does it with no staff, Stevens laughs and shakes her head. “I don’t know, but it gets done!” With over $1.5 million dollars donated over the span of ten years, the foundation is definitely getting things done.
This year is their ten year anniversary, and they are celebrating with a themed event. Havana Nights will be hosted at the home of Steve Comunale on October 1. With music provided by The Spinners, great food and drinks provided by Beau’s Grille, they’ll celebrate the last ten years, and look forward to another ten years of helping local families. All proceeds from the tickets go to helping even more families.
Check out their website for what you can do to help at stephencomunale.org.