CENTRAL FALLS --- Jean Morris, 80 years young, maintained she had a terrific reason for attending the Central Falls Housing Authority's “Cancer/Domestic Violence Awareness Activities Day” event at Forand Manor on Wednesday.
“I just wanted to help people who have been diagnosed with cancer; I know my father had a horrible death,” she stated inside the manor's cafeteria/assembly room. “I also wanted people to understand more about domestic violence, and how it has affected a lot of families. I know battered women are out there who are afraid to speak up, but there are agencies out there who can help.
“They may not feel like they can speak up because they're afraid of being hurt again, or that the person may hit their children,” she added. “That's why I made a couple of ribbons – one purple for domestic violence and one pink for breast cancer.”
On this afternoon, Morris also was the first to receive a tattoo – that of a black cat representing not only upcoming Halloween but also her own precious pet, “Princess.”
“It's only a temporary tattoo,” she laughed. “Don't worry.”
According to the Housing Authority's Executive Director Tina Sullivan, the whole idea was to make the manor's residents more privy to the disease, and the issue of domestic violence.
“This is to help educate folks about what services exist out there, where they can go to get assistance,” Sullivan stated. “We have a number of residents who have been diagnosed with cancer, or they're in remission. We're holding this so everyone can show their support for them.”
Resident Services Coordinator Aimee Tortolano indicated there are 400 people living at both Forand and nearby Wilfrid manors, and that at least 25-30 have been directly affected by cancer or domestic violence.
Some tenants sat at big round tables – call them stations – creating pink and purple canvas and yarn ribbons while others snacked on wine biscuits in the shape of those “cross-over” ribbons, pink-colored Rice Krispies marshmallow squares, pink popcorn and coffee. In one corner, a woman sat as a professional have her a manicure.
“I personally have been affected by breast cancer, so this is a great way to reach out to the tenants,” Sullivan noted. “Once the tenants got involved, this thing really blossomed. We've had some who have been working for two days, making chocolate candies, canvas ribbon pins, earrings, napkin holder rings, ribbons with beads, etc.
“Our goals are simple: To make all citizens more aware, and if we get donations out of it, that's great. If we raised only $10, that would be $10 more going to the American Cancer Association (Rhode Island chapter) and the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center.”
Added Tortolano: “If not, at the very least, we got the residents out of their rooms and away from their TVs. They came out to socialize. That's so important.”
Evidently, the activities plans began as a simple coffee hour (50 cents a cup), but – with suggestions and tips from Forand Manor Tenants Association President Bill Barry and his wife, FMTA Vice President Melissa Jacques – it grew into a full-fledged “Craftfest/Fundraiser.”
“It did escalate pretty fast,” Barry acknowledged. “My mother, who's a resident here, has leukemia, and she found out about eight years ago. She also just had a relapse four or five months ago, so she's currently undergoing chemotherapy.
“She had something to do with my involvement, but we always jump on board with any activities they schedule here.”
Jeanette Barry grinned at that statement. Not only didn't she look like she was battling leukemia, but her 75 years, either.
“I think this is super,” she offered. “Everyone is working so hard on this, trying to get the word out. I think it's very good to know; everyone needs to be educated about the different cancers and domestic violence.”
Stated Lorna Garneau, who despite her rheumatoid arthritis made purple canvas ribbon pins: “I think some of us may have been victims of domestic violence, assaults, and – when it comes to cancer – my father died of throat cancer. It makes me feel good that people care about what happens, and are willing to help people become more aware. Yes, it can happen to us, too.”
When tenants chose to expand into a full day (8 a.m.-3 p.m.), Sullivan and staff requested materials from the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Association and the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, who happily obliged. One table had dozens of booklets about both issues.
“I've had a couple of residents share their personal stories with me,” Tortolano stated. “It was pretty touching, and it broke my heart, but – thankfully – they're still with us. One told me she recently had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and that she had a mastectomy about three weeks ago. She said she had a rough go of it, and had just started her chemo last week.
“She also told me she doesn't have a lot of family support; however, in planning this event, we reached out to the Gloria Gemma Foundation, and they supplied us with written materials. Also, because she doesn't get that support from her family, they gave me a care package for her,” she continued, tears forming. “It included a prayer shawl, so she can bring it with her to the chemo sessions.
“When she saw that, she broke down. She was so happy. Trust me, it was beautiful.”
Sullivan admitted being thrilled when her son, St. Raphael Academy sophomore Pat Sullivan, and two schoolmates, junior Emily Millar and freshman Ben Johnston, asked to volunteer, help the tenants out.
They weren't alone, as Cumberland Middle Schooler Alexis Delgado, also showed up to pass out snacks and craft items.
“It's just the right thing to do,” explained Pat Sullivan.
On the humorous side, Barry decided to create T-shirts as well. They bought several at a nearby store, and he found images and catchphrases on the Internet pertinent to breast cancer victims. One vivid pink shirt had a cartoon image of an older woman saying, “My mission ain't diamonds, my mission ain't rubies, My mission in life is to save the boobies!”
Another shirt depicted a cartoon rabbit with a woman's body. Over the chest read, “Save the ta-tas!”
Those extra shirts will go to a free raffle to all of those who participated in the Activities Day. Even the maintenance men got into the mood, wearing pink T-shirts, courtesy of employee Jon Kelly.
“They're already talking about doing something bigger next year,” Tortolano laughed.