Meeting a Quiet Need among Breast Cancer Patients

Photo By Jessica Monte Photography

More than ten years ago, the Step Sisters organization was born out of a group of friends and neighbors participating in the Washington DC Avon Walk.  After years of working together to raise funds and awareness, members of the organization decided to fight breast cancer on a different level.

While they knew they had been making a positive impact, they wanted to do more for the battle against breast cancer in their own community. In 2014, Ashley Campolattaro and Angela Fuentes took the existing Step Sisters one step further and formed a 501C(3) non-profit organization to assist local patients as they cope with the financial and emotional tolls of breast cancer.

The Step Sisters alleviate stress for breast cancer patients by funding various services – from house cleaning to childcare – allowing these women to focus on treatment and recovery.

How it All Began

Breast cancer has affected the lives of both Step Sisters’ founders. Fuentes is a survivor and Campolattaro supported her mother through the disease. Both women also understand the tremendous impact of small favors – like the ones that their organization now provides to parts of the Northern Virginia community – for those going through treatment.

“When my mom was going through treatments, she lived in Maryland,” Campolattaro said. “She needed and received help with the everyday basics of life. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to do the same thing for other families.”

Fuentes and Campolattaro heard a calling and an invitation.

“We kept seeing our friends and neighbors diagnosed with breast cancer and needing this kind of support,” Campolattaro said. “There’s a quiet need out here.”

Fuentes, who has been breast cancer free for seven years, can speak directly to that need.

“I had tremendous help from neighbors such as meals brought to me, and I wanted to make sure other women had the same support I did,” Fuentes said.

Ashley and Angela decided to pay forward the support received in both cases – and the Step Sisters’ new mission was created.

Professionalism and Efficiency: Not just for the for-profit World

While The Step Sisters started as an informal walking group of Brambleton neighbors and friends, the non-profit organization that it is today has been designed to maximize its impact.  Both women are business owners and have been strategic in both starting and growing the organization.  Their first step was to talk to their local hospital – INOVA Loudoun.

“We consider the hospitals our strategic partners – they are the ones working directly with patients, understanding which services are most requested and those most beneficial,” Fuentes explained. “When you go through cancer treatment, oncology nurse navigators help you navigate the entire procedure. Since they are closest to the patients, these nurses determine who has the greatest need for services.”

Because of patient confidentiality, in most cases, the Step Sisters do not know the women that their organization supports. This results in the coordination of services without personal relationships or feelings involved. Step Sisters has been so efficient that in less than two years, the organization has expanded to other area hospitals.

“Soon, from INOVA Loudoun, good news traveled, and we were approached by INOVA Fairfax and Fair Oaks, and everything fell into place,” Fuentes said. “At that point, we were meeting the needs of INOVA Loudoun and felt like we had the resources to expand to INOVA Fair Oaks and Fairfax. Strategically, we make sure we meet the needs of the hospitals we currently serve before moving outward.”

To continue their goal of smart growth, the women have not and will not expand to additional hospitals until they are confident they are meeting the needs of the existing partnerships.

Close to Home in More Ways Than One

Consistent with their mission to assist patients and families close to home, The Step Sisters also boost the local economy by using local businesses.

While the group plans on adding more, some of the businesses they have contracts with are Regal Maid Services, Dulles Taxi, Reston Limo and Washington Green Grocer.

The founders like to have personal experience with the providers they use for Step Sisters so that they know the businesses will perform at the quality that perpetuates their reputation.

“We choose local vendors we have either worked with previously or otherwise vetted,” Campolattaro said. “And, when we do start using a new one, we start on a small scale – at one hospital, for example, to see how it goes before rolling it out to the others.”

Meeting a Growing List of Needs

To identify what services are most needed by patients, it all goes back to that initial relationship with the hospitals.

“We meet with the hospitals on a quarterly basis to understand what is needed,” Fuentes said. “If we see an unmet need, then we do our research to add that to our offerings.”

Recently, Step Sisters added dog walking to their array of services, truly serving the needs of everyone in a breast cancer patient’s family.

The Step Sisters focus their work in geographic areas that do not already have a breast cancer support organization.  “We try not to overlap organizations,” Fuentes said. “When we started, we met with a lot of local breast cancer organizations to make sure we weren’t duplicating efforts.  We are careful about where we do grow.”

Moving Forward

The Step Sisters rely on grants, individual donations and fundraising events to keep going.  They host three fundraising events throughout the year: the Step Sisters’ Ribbon Run 5K every April, the Step Sisters’ Scramble golf tournament every fall, and the Think Pink auction in the spring.

“The Ribbon Run is without a doubt our biggest fundraising event,” Fuentes said. “Next year’s race on April 22nd will actually be its tenth year. The funds directly support the services of The Step Sisters.”

As professionally as they run their organization, it is ultimately how breast cancer has affected the founders’ own families and loved ones that keeps The Step Sisters going and growing at such fervor.

“We have lost a few Step Sisters to breast cancer over the years,” Fuentes said. “One was a close neighbor and friend. Those losses continue to drive us to keep going and what gives us a reason for doing what we do.”

To donate to or volunteer with The Step Sisters, please visit their website: www.stepsisters.org

ASHLEY CLAIRE SIMPSON
Ashley Claire Simpson is a Marketing Communications Specialist for a local military association, but her real passion is freelance writing for a number of publications, including Fairfax/Alexandria Woman. She has been writing features and human interest pieces since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia, where she graduated in 2008. Ashley has lived in the D.C.-metropolitan area for most of her life and always relishes the opportunity to learn and write about so many inspirational local women who make a difference in the community - and in the world at large.