Provide those affected by cancer with personal, individualized support to alleviate the emotional, physical, and financial strain that a cancer diagnosis brings. It is our goal to ensure our families have the “breathing room” they need to allow them to concentrate their efforts on regaining their health.
It is our vision to ensure no family fights cancer alone by offering solutions to their most critical needs as they face the hardships related to a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Established in February of 1997, the Breathing Room Foundation was founded by Bernard and Diane Fitzgerald as a response to the overwhelming support from their family and friends with their 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.
Manager of Development
Katie Owen is the newest member of our team, joining the Breathing Room in April of 2018 as our Manager of Development. Katie comes to the Breathing Room with over eight years of development experience, six of which were spent in various roles within Main Line Health’s Development department.
Katie has always had a passion for development and working in the non-profit sector “Giving back to others has always been important to me, I love that I have been given the opportunity to have a career that makes a positive impact on my community and the people in it.”
Katie resides in Delaware County with her husband and three young children. She is very active, and loves running and kickboxing. When she is not running around after her kids, she enjoys spending time with her large family, which includes her nine brothers and sisters.