When Jean Shipos survived a recurrence of ovarian cancer in 2003, she and her daughter vowed to raise awareness of the disease. They got involved with a local run/walk, organizing a team and fundraising each year. In 2006, Jean’s daughter suggested starting an event of their own. “We can’t keep hitting up the same friends for money each year,” she said.
They decided to host a small tea party, and enlisted friends with experience in volunteering and fundraising to help. The “intimate” event they planned drew 250 people and raised $14,000. “Everything gets done by the grace of family and friends,” notes Jean.
The annual tea has since become the signature event of the Teal Tea Foundation. “It just moves you to tears,” says Jean. Held each May, the tea regularly draws more than 300 attendees for a festive and educational occasion. One of the highlights each year is a table decorating contest. Each 10-person team has a table captain, some of whom start planning their décor as much as a year in advance. For this year’s contest, each table was decorated to represent a different city; the Kyoto table included waterfalls and a woman dressed in a kimono, while Bombay featured hand-painted dishes.
The Teal Tea Foundation registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2008, and has since expanded to do more than raise awareness. The foundation now helps fund ovarian cancer research. They have donated $28,000 to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and are exploring partnerships with other local cancer centers.
The Teal Tea Foundation also gives gifts to women undergoing chemotherapy in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, and sends them encouraging cards. Volunteers from the group attend health fairs in the area, and speak about ovarian cancer at health clubs and doctors’ offices.
The Teal Tea Foundation is focused on building alliances. It is now a Partner Member of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and will exhibit at our Annual Conference later this week. Last year, the foundation formed a coalition of local organizations with similar missions, called One Force to Make a Difference. The coalition has organized two symposia on ovarian cancer; this year they were able to give credits for continuing medical education, which encouraged a range of health care practitioners to attend.
Cara Tenenbaum, Vice President for Policy and External Affairs at the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, was one of three featured speakers at this year’s event. “The One Force to Make a Difference Symposium had expert speakers from across the board, representing science, support and advocacy. I was so honored to have been a part of this successful event and look forward to continuing to work with all our Partner Members on their community-based efforts,” she says.
Plans are underway for a range of events and activities in September, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Many local towns hold “Septemberfest” celebrations, where volunteers staff a table and hand out materials about ovarian cancer. And, true to the organization’s name, they hold a high tea in September.
Among their goals for the next year is the development of an online “yellow pages” to help local women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The website would include listings for doctors, home health aides, free wigs, transportation and more.
In just five years, the Teal Tea Foundation has grown from a single, small event to a robust organization working on education and awareness throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit www.tealtea.com.