Komen: shaken to the core 

Between the Lines

For those special people who devote their lives to working in the nonprofit world, motivated totally by serving worthy causes, it's hard to imagine a better situation than what everyone involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure has had for years.

They shared an admirable quest, promoting women's breast health and wellness. They could benefit from the iconic Komen brand, known and respected in every corner of America. They could raise money knowing it went to the right places, locally and beyond. And they always could count on legions of volunteers to pursue the mission.

It was the perfect recipe for success, and Komen for the Cure had built and nurtured its image flawlessly for years.

Until last week. Then came the decision from Komen's national office to stop allowing grants to Planned Parenthood, unleashing coast-to-coast outrage. Three days later, Komen leaders reversed themselves, hoping to stop the damage.

But here in Colorado Springs, and perhaps many other cities, that's not a certainty.

Stacy Poore, Komen's regional executive director (El Paso, Pueblo and Teller counties) for going on three years, has experienced first-hand a fact of life usually reserved for the "other" world: When controversy strikes, you only hear reaction from people who are mad.

First, after Komen cut ties with Planned Parenthood, more than 100 calls flooded the local Komen office. At least 90 percent, Poore says, condemned Komen. Only a handful were supportive.

Just as that leveled off, the reversal touched off another tsunami, with at least 100 more callers, many from the conservative side of this community, blasting Komen for caving on the issue. One donor, who had signed over a $3,000 tax refund to Komen, demanded to have it returned, Poore says.

"What happened at the national level took us off our mission," says Poore. "They didn't seem to realize what kind of effect their decision would have everywhere."

To say this self-induced emergency has shaken Komen's organization to its roots would be an understatement. In one week, Poore's job went from all-purpose organizer to full-time crisis manager. She felt it was vital to return every call, answer every message, address every volatile question, for two reasons.

One, there's a local fundraiser on Feb. 23 called Country for the Cure, a country-music concert at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Two, Poore won't be around much longer. Several weeks ago, well before the trouble erupted, Poore turned in her resignation to become chief development officer for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, starting Feb. 29.

Poore's task has become leaving the local Komen operation in a good place. That means dealing with public misconceptions, amid repercussions this week inside Komen's hierarchy. For example:

• Komen gave $93 million nationwide in grants last year, just $680,000 (less than 1 percent) to Planned Parenthood, usually at local levels. But nothing in Colorado Springs, because Poore says Planned Parenthood hasn't asked for help in years. The local office gave out more than $425,000 in grants last year to 11 programs that provide women's breast health services through such entities as Peak Vista, Memorial Health System, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center (Pueblo) and the Latino American Health Network.

• Komen isn't as big locally as one might think. There was no paid staff in the area until three years ago, Poore says. Only two are on payroll now, and almost all work is done by volunteers.

• Money raised by Komen locally doesn't funnel into a national bureaucracy: 75 percent stays for local grants, and the other 25 percent goes directly to research. In nearly two decades, Komen's chapter here has given about $6 million in grants and another $1.5 million to research.

Nobody knows whether Komen will be able to heal its image after managing to inflame all sides: pro-choice, pro-life and the millions in the middle who thought Komen was only about breast health, not social/political issues.

"I do think we will see some fallout in our fundraising efforts," Poore admits. "It is too early to tell the extent of this. My hope and prayer is that the change will be minimal. ... Sometimes it is hard for the world to agree on what is right."

And that's not how life is supposed to be in the world of charitable causes.



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