To provide individualized care and support to families affected by cancer by addressing their most critical needs so that they can concentrate their efforts on regaining their physical health.
To improve the lives of families affected by cancer by ensuring no one feels alone in their fight.
Established in February of 1997, the Breathing Room Foundation was founded by Bernard and Diane Fitzgerald as a response to the overwhelming support received from their family, friends and the community that surrounded them during Diane’s six year battle with cancer.
“As my wife waged her six year battle with cancer, I witnessed first hand the destruction of this disease. During that same time, I witnessed first hand the comfort of care. With each diagnosis, as cancer attacked her breast, lymph nodes, lungs, spine, and brain, there were the gifts. Diane, our children, and I were the recipients of so many gifts. With each gift we heard the words ‘I care.’ At one of our darkest moments, we received a visit from a friend who offered us great comfort. It was at that time, Diane confided in me, ‘…sometimes I think I’m going to be cured, and this cancer will go away. That may not happen, but I think I’m being cured in other ways.’
“I have thanked so many people for such gifts that I wonder if a thank you from me means anything. The words as I say them sound insincere. The best way I can show my gratitude is to do similar things for others as were done for us. When our foundation helps someone renovate their home or send someone on vacation or offers presents to children we hear ‘thank you.’ With each opportunity to help others, I am saying thank you.
“We were in a battle between care and disease. This battle did not start with us. Others before us waged such a battle, and it does not end with us. I ask you to join me with this foundation because I assure you I am not done fighting. ”
– Bernie Fitzgerald, Co-Founder
Mary Ellen Fitzgerald
Mary Ellen Fitzgerald is the Director of the Breathing Room Foundation. She has been involved with the foundation since its inception in 1997, first as a founding member of the board of directors and she currently holds the position of Executive Director.
Just three months before her sister Diane Fitzgerald lost her battle against breast cancer, she and her husband Bernie asked some of their closest friends and family members to help them make their vision (BRF) come to fruition.
Mary Ellen says, “I am honored to be able to help carry out my sister’s legacy. I could not be more proud of the work of the Breathing Room Foundation and am grateful every day for having the opportunity to be a part of it. The words of gratitude that I hear from the families that we serve are a true testament to the life that my sister lived. She lived her life to serve others and with BRF she continues to do that even after her passing.”
Eileen Carissimi is the Volunteer Coordinator of the Breathing Room Foundation. She is an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle that makes this foundation successful. She is responsible for matching volunteers to the needs of the families that are served by BRF. Eileen has great compassion for those in need, and the desire to make a difference. She knows firsthand the impact that a cancer diagnosis has on a family, so she can relate to the emotional and physical needs that our families are faced with on a daily basis. Eileen works to provide them with exactly what is needed at any particular time.
No one thinks more highly of Eileen than the foundation’s Executive Director, Mary Ellen Fitzgerald. She states, “Eileen has such a strong passion for the mission and is able to relay that to others so that they become immediately “hooked” and committed to making an impact on the families that we serve. The growth in the number of volunteers working with the organization is a true testament to Eileen’s hard work and dedication.
Tina Rock is the Office Administrator for the Breathing Room Foundation. She is an outstanding and necessary asset to the organization’s success. In a busy non-profit, it is critical to be organized and thorough and Tina works tirelessly to be sure that happens. She keeps the office running smoothly, helping in every aspect of the work of the foundation.
Tina gives a great deal of her time and energy and is committed to the mission of the Breathing Room Foundation. She shares the mission and has great pride in her work and the impact that the foundation has on the community in which she lives. We simply could not accomplish what we do here at the Breathing Room office if it were not for the skills that Tina brings to the table. She is a team player and her energy and dedication is admirable.
Director of Development
Colleen Knoble is the newest member of our team, joining the Breathing Room in March of 2022 as our Director of Development. Colleen has been an active participant in the programs at BRF for many years, and is excited to join the team in a professional capacity.
Colleen is a natural “people person” who is passionate about making a difference in her community. She is thrilled to combine that passion with her experience in sales and business development to help usher in the next 25 years of success for the Breathing Room Foundation.
Colleen lives in Elkins Park with her husband and 2 children. She loves to garden and thrift shop for vintage treasures. Colleen also is very active in local kids sports organizations, and enjoys coaching local soccer and softball teams.