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August 24, 2018 - Celebrate Hope: 10 years of investment in cancer research

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Celebrate Hope has reason to celebrate. Over its nine-year history, the festive event has raised more than $2.8 million for USA Mitchell Cancer Institute. All of that money has been used locally, and all has been used to support cancer research. Not overhead. Not administration-heavy foundations or charity organization. But research pure and simple.

From its earliest days, Mitchell Cancer Institute looked for a signature event to boost support. Enter Cynthia Zipperly. “She’s a visionary,” says Kelly McCarron, associate vice president for medical affairs development at USA Health. “She’s fabulous at what she does.”

Zipperly wanted an event that would engage not only MCI but also the Mobile medical community and the region in general.

Zipperly jokes that the inspiration probably came in the shower — her only quiet time when her kids were little. “That’s when my brain starts going — what does our community need now?”

The answer, she decided, was an event on the MCI campus, showing off the facilities and the unexpected mix of clinical care with research. She encouraged local chefs to participate, offering specialty dishes paired with the perfect wine or beer. Live music. Beautiful decorations. And an atmosphere that allowed people to mingle and learn.

Cancer is an enormous problem — she knows from watching friends and relations battle it. “Unless we all work together, we can’t solve the problem as quickly,” Zipperly says.

That first year, 2009, the event netted $200,000. MCI and the Celebrate Hope volunteers opted to tuck the money away and let it grow. A couple years later, the first investment came in a pair of confocal microscopes.

That investment snowballed. The specialty equipment attracted an additional researcher, who in turn attracted additional research grant funding.

Meanwhile, Celebrate Hope rolled on. Tonia Silverstein and Jerry Silverstein took the helm as the event matured. Sheri Weber joined the leadership team, then Kelly and Craig FoCelebrate Hope McClellan 2017 847.jpgwler, Michael Druhan, Laureen Lynn. Dozens of others designed elaborate settings, recruited chefs, booked
entertainment and managed logistics.

“It takes the leadership of community volunteers to pull this off,” says McCarron, “We are really blessed to have a very talented pool of volunteers. They are an incredible group of people, offering their time, talent and treasure.”

Last year, those attending the event heard pitches from four researchers and voted for the project they thought should receive the proceeds. Steve McClellan won the most votes, earning funds for a circular cell sorter — a key tool in efforts to prevent recurrence of cancer.

This year, event participants will have the same chance to influence the use of funds raised, says Doug Whitmore, who is leading the 2018 event. Offering guests the opportunity to help spend some $300,000 — and to learn about the research in progress at MCI — is powerful, Whitmore says. And it helps attract younger participants, which is crucial for maintaining a pool of donors and volunteers.

In 2018, says Whitmore, “we celebrate 10 years of research, 10 years of people who fought and beat cancer, 10 years of people who couldn’t beat it but aided in the mission, donors, past chairs — all the things that got us to this point.”


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