Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Ellery.
Sarah, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009, I realized how unprepared I was for any kind of news like hearing, “you have breast cancer”! Starting my breast cancer journey, I had no idea where to turn, who to talk to, what to plan, or where to seek advice. It was then that I felt there should be a bag of hope for women entering this same journey. After about a year, my family and I decided it was time to venture out and help other women with the knowledge I had gained.
My Hope Bag received a philanthropic grant from Royal Neighbors of America and started the trek to helping and serving other women. From the beginning, when visiting with a bag requester, we first encourage her to talk about what she is going through. During that time, our ears are keen to hear of some of her personal needs. From there, we are able to help her with benevolence, groceries, care for her children while she is at a treatment, car rides to and from treatment, and many other items she may disclose. We present them with a Resource Guide housing many different types of resources which is handy especially when one doesn’t have an idea of where to turn. After chat time, the bag recipient is presented with her beautiful pink tote filled with comfort items, many of which are handmade.
I have always had a heart for women going through their own breast cancer journey. While similar, no two journeys are the same. It warms my heart to bring a smile to someone who has felt alone and isolated because no one completely understands what she is going through. My Hope Bag represents a large network of breast cancer warriors who want to give back by paying it forward. I love hearing stories from these volunteers who just beam with pride when telling of their bag deliveries.
As CEO and Founder of this wonderful organization, my heartfelt dream is to open a Respite Center for women to meet at and find comfort from each other. We believe hope is ignited when breast cancer warriors gather together. The newly diagnosed feel hopeful when hearing how others have survived what they are currently battling. We will offer workshops on various breast cancer topics. As well, we will offer coffee and tea in a setting that is comforting. There will be a solitude garden where one can just be alone and contemplate her feelings. A bonus vegetable garden will be there for their picking.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Time was an obstacle for growing the organization until I was able to retire two years ago. Covid started to get in the way until I realized this was a perfect time to research some of the programs, we wanted for My Hope Bag. I did counsel with a coach who encouraged me to utilize the extra time at home. She was a life-saver and helped me realize my potential in what I wanted to develop within My Hope Bag.
Ongoing challenges are keeping volunteers motivated to want to become more involved in the organization. My goal is to have a team where each person owns a project/event and I oversee it for the first few months. A self-started would be a perfect fit for My Hope Bag. One who really believes in the purpose and wants to see projects through.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My Hope Bag is a 501c3 nonprofit organization compassionately empowering women with breast cancer while providing free resources, wellness education, comfort, and hugs through personalized home visits in Arizona. We spread ourselves among women who reach out and request one of our bags. The bags were started mostly to help us connect with breast cancer warriors. They look online (for HOPE) and find us. They contact us in the way of a request and we then contact them to set a time to get together. We are able to meet them at their place of comfort; home, a neutral place like a coffee shop, or since covid began we are able to talk with them on the phone and then deliver the bag to their porch known as a Doorbell Drop Off. Meeting someone who has experienced a breast cancer journey of their own, gives the bag recipient comfort as well as encouragement to face another day and know she is not alone.
I am so proud of My Hope Bag. We have served over 2000 families since its inception in 2011. Each year the organization grows and adds new programs, I smile because I know that more families are being served. When we visit a bag recipient, we always invite family members to be present. They learn that My Hope Bag is there for their loved one and is not expecting anything in return. One of our warriors once said, “I kept waiting for them to want to sell me something!” But the blessings we receive from being with the bag recipient and her family are amazing. We build friendships and many join the My Hope Bag team to serve more women.
We are set apart from other organizations because we visit the recipient in her home. It doesn’t stop there. Often, we organize meals for her and her family. We have a three, six, and nine-month check in with her to make sure she is doing well. Many friendships are formed. The huge bonus is when one of the women we served says she wants to give back and pay it forward. Many of our volunteers are former recipients.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Since the numbers are growing of women, and men getting diagnosed with breast cancer, I see a need to increase our visibility. In five years, I envision us being represented in every pertinent Dr.’s office, women’s center, and hospitals in Arizona. We currently have 22 women who represent our “Hope Sister” program. They are the angels who visit the bag recipients. They learn so much from the recipients and share with them their own journey in order to spread hope and comfort. The industry in general will most likely have an increased need for My Hope Bag. We are sad about that but realize the importance of growing My Hope Bag to be available for this increase.
I believe we will be in a Respite Center within three years. This is such a needed program for everyone dealing with cancer but primarily breast cancer. This will be a place of respite for our breast cancer warriors where they can sit back and relax while sipping coffee or tea and being encouraged by other warriors. We want an activity room where we can share speakers, workshops, or even crafts at no charge to the attending warriors. There will be a vegetable garden where they can pick harvested vegetables and have the organic freshness to help fight their cancer. There will be more friendships built from this contact with each other.
- Bag’s value is $75. Donations are welcome