Margaret Mead's famous quote could have been written about the founders of Concern Foundation. It was 1968 and the world was reeling from the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. The war in Vietnam raged on and Richard Nixon was elected president. In an eventful and turbulent year, a small group of friends in Los Angeles had just received the news from their good friend, Beverly Wolman, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
At 35 years of age, Beverly was the first in her group of friends to be diagnosed with a terminal illness. This close-knit network of friends from high school had maintained intimate ties over the years and shared in many of each other's milestone occasions. Beverly's friends were stunned by the devastating news. Rather than give over to grief, fifteen couples and dear friends decided to channel their frustration to take a stand against cancer and give purpose to their friend's life. In the process, they not only changed the world, but also advanced the study and understanding of cancer.
From that fateful meeting in Beverly's living room, the notion of creating an organization to "CONquer canCER Now" was conceived. CONCERN (CONquer canCER Now) Foundation was established shortly thereafter. Three years later, President Nixon reacted to the national outcry over cancer, and declared the "War on Cancer". By then, Beverly had lost her battle with cancer, but her legacy lived: Concern Foundation was well on its way to becoming an independent funding source for cancer research.
The organization's mission is clear - to make sure that every dollar raised is used to find the cause and eventual cure for this devastating disease. Based on their initial limited resources and with the advice of some local medical experts, Concern chose to concentrate funding in immunology, a previously untapped area of cancer research. This proved to be a bold and progressive move on the part of Concern Foundation, setting it apart from other organizations of its kind. The group provided integral funding to Dr. David Weiss, a leading scientist in immunology, who was conducting research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This ultimately led to the recognition by the National Institutes of Health of Weiss's cancer immunology research as a new and viable source of insight into the cause and treatment of cancer.
Immunology begs a fundamental question: What causes a person's natural immune system to break down and allow inactive cancer cells to become active? This question is as relevant today as it was in 1968 - a testament to the foresight of the founding members. The quest for an answer fueled the group to raise additional funds to support immunology research. During the organization's formative years, the founding members reached out to a larger group of friends to join their mission, realizing that it would take much more to make an impact on cancer. They envisioned a larger-than-life event to recruit new donors - an event different in in scope from what any organization had done thus far. From this notion was born the Block Party, which today has become the organization's signature fundraiser.
Concern Foundation is a rarity in the nonprofit world as it maintains an administrative overhead of 5% or less. Concern remains primarily a volunteer driven organization. Ten of the original fifteen couples are still actively involved and membership has grown to over 10,000. Concern is a multi-generational organization, as many as four generations of families work side by side to sustain the mission to find a cure. Thanks to the training and leadership provided by the organization's founding visionaries, the second and third generations have assumed the current Concern leadership roles. In the early 1980's, an off-shoot of Concern, Concern II, was established to attract young adults between the ages of 18 and 35.
In 40 years, Concern Foundation has raised well over $41 million dollars to cultivate the expertise of outstanding young investigators and to sustain the progress in prevention and treatment of cancer. Thanks to the generosity of Concern's loyal donors, there are presently 52 researchers supported by a "CONquer canCER Now" grant. These outstanding investigators are furthering their expertise in 13 different areas of cancer research at leading institutions in California, the United States, and around the world.
What began as a grassroots effort to give purpose to the life of one individual has transcended its humble origins. Concern continues its mission to give hope to everyone who is diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately for many of these children and adults, many types of cancer are no longer the terminal disease that took Beverly Wolman's life. However, until cancers are spoken of in the past tense, Concern Foundation will continue its quest to COnquer canCER Now. Proof, indeed, that all it takes to change the world is a group of dedicated individuals.