our programs and services
Cancer is “one of the most expensive medical conditions to treat in the United States.” When coping with cancer, families are at their most vulnerable, and necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and maintaining a normal home life for children are often at risk. BRF reduces financial toxicity by addressing the families most immediate financial need at the time of referral. This can include payment of a utility bill to avoid shut-off, groceries, gas to get to treatments, or a partial rent payment.
Through our partnership with hospital social workers, we recognized that many families are experiencing a recurrence of cancer and/or prolonged active treatment. For these families, resources have often been exhausted, leaving them without the support they need. To address this, BRF established its Breaking Barriers Program. This program assists in removing barriers to cancer care, without a one-year limit to services,. The greatest needs identified through this program are transportation and nutritional subbasements. BRF provides safe and reliable transportation to life-saving cancer treatments and ongoing deliveries of nutritional supplements.
The children’s wellbeing becomes a main concern when a family member is diagnosed with cancer. We concentrate a large portion of our efforts on ensuring the children impacted by cancer, through their own diagnosis or that of a family member, continue to have positive childhood experiences. We offer annual programs that provide Spring/Easter baskets, Holiday gifts, uncooked Thanksgiving dinners, personalized school supplies and other child-focused support throughout the year.
Once a family is referred to BRF, they are eligible to receive support for an entire year. This support is individualized to each family’s specific needs but often includes deliveries of home-cooked meals and groceries, comfort items, medical supplies and equipment, diapers and wipes, and snacks for the children, BRF ensures all of this support is accompanied by personal touches, including greeting cards, phone calls, and other communication to check in on families throughout their cancer journey–all designed to ensure no one feels alone in their fight against cancer
Who We Serve
We keep our service area limited so that we can provide individualized, hands-on support to families living with cancer so that they feel the love and support of BRF and the entire community that supports us. View our list of service areas here.
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At this most difficult time of my life, you have brought me an array of sunshine. Your kindness goes unmeasured. Thank you.”
Thank you for being an amazing partner in caring for our patients. BRF is a real game-changer in the cancer support space and I’ll be excited to see how it continues to evolve and shape the Philly region’s health systems.”
I felt grateful that someone could provide a glimmer of hope to my two grandchildren during a dark time in our lives. Between COVID and my diagnosis, the kids and I felt isolated. The fact that BRF had generous volunteers to go out and shop for us was very uplifting and heartwarming.”
I thank you so much for what you have blessed my family with. We are so thankful. I truly appreciate you blessing my children with Easter baskets. It’s one less stressor. I am so thankful for your help.”
I cannot tell you how much your letter meant to me at that particular moment. I can’t even express how much it meant and means to me that anybody would have the heart to reach out like that. it was really wonderful. Thank you so much.”
Please let the Breathing Room Foundation know we are so grateful for picking our family during this difficult time. We appreciate your foundation and all the thoughtful things they have done for our family and are humbled by your kindness.”
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
We are fortunate to have incredibly generous corporate sponsors and partners who continue to make our mission a reality, as well as allow both our fundraising events and outreach programs to flourish. Along with our volunteers, they are the driving force behind our work.
25th Anniversary Community Partners
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Board of Directorsview a list of former board members (Opens a PDF file)
Dr. Sramila Aithal
Medical Oncologist, Alliance Cancer Specialists
Dr. Adam Binder
Medical Oncologist, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Manager, Organizational Development, Day & Zimmermann
Vice President – Sr. Director, Newmark
President, ACE Mentor Program
President - Chief Talent Officer, Stradley Ronon
Treasurer - Senior Compliance Analyst, SIG
Head of Learning and Growth, NextLesson
Director, Marketing, Doylestown Country Club
Education Consultant, LexisNexis
Founder, President, Pritzker Law Group
Senior Oncology Social Worker, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
Secretary – Senior Client Advocate, ECBM
Senior Vice President, Rust Consulting, Inc.
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.
Aginah joined BRF in 2023 with a background in Healthcare Management. She brings a passion for connecting people, serving the community, and
working in a team environment. Aginah’s personal experience with cancer in her own family inspires her work everyday and keeps her motivated providing support to families in need. Aginah’s home life managing five kids (and a bonus kid!) helps to keep her organized at home and in the office. She loves that working at BRF gives her a chance to still give back in a focused and tangible sense while connecting with families.
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.
Director of Marketing
Jen brings nearly two decades of nonprofit management experience to BRF. Combining creativity and marketing cohesively for Breathing Room allows her to share the stories and work of this tremendous organization. Her passion for highlighting the beautiful experiences that BRF provides to recipients, volunteers, and donors represents the shared community effort of BRF and our supporters.
Tricia joined BRF in 2022 to sustain and advance the Breaking Barriers Program. Tricia was hired to coordinate services. Tricia was an oncology nurse for over 30 years and brings an unmatched depth of knowledge to conversations about recipients needs and community resources.