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Miriam Ross
Miriam Ross

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• What: Race for the Cure
• When: 8 a.m. March 9
• Where: Coconut Point Mall, 23106 Fashion Drive, Estero
• Register: Visit komenswfl.org

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Southwest Florida’s most prominent breast cancer nonprofit is searching for new leadership — with less than two months to go until its biggest fundraiser.

Susan G. Komen Southwest Florida accepted applications through Friday to fill its vacant executive director position. Miriam Ross, who held the title for about four years, stepped down just before Christmas. Ross left to take a position at Naples Community Hospital, said Noreen Thomas, who is temporarily taking her place. Thomas said she didn’t know what Ross is doing at the hospital.

“Miriam had a wonderful opportunity at Naples Community Hospital,” Thomas said, “and so she left the affiliate here in a very positive way.”

Ross did not return calls requesting comment.

Komen Southwest Florida suffered a setback last year when it fell $150,000 short of its fundraising goal during Race for the Cure — its largest, annual fundraiser. Some blamed the drop in donations over the national organization’s decision to stop funding breast-cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. Komen said it was because Planned Parenthood was at the center of a congressional investigation launched at the urging of anti-abortion activists. The funding was later restored, but fallout from the decision continued.

Thomas said Ross’ departure had nothing to do with the Southwest Florida affiliate’s subsequent drop in fundraising.

“I think there is a general climate in this whole region,” Thomas said, “if you look at other nonprofit charities, I think everybody is struggling to some degree to meet quotas and goals from prior years.”

Thomas blames the drop in funds partly on increased competition from new non-profits.

Plans were already started for this year’s Race for the Cure, leaving the organization in good shape heading into the March 9 event, Thomas said. The Southwest Florida affiliate has raised about $300,000 so far, and is on track to meet this year’s goal of $850,000 — which is how much the organization raised last year. The affiliate lowered its goal by $150,000, down from last year’s goal of $1 million.

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About 450 people have signed up for the race , compared with 715 at this time last year, according to Development Assistant Christine Braden. Braden said the decline is worrying, but the organization is hopeful. In anticipation of the event, staff are throwing parties with food and music at Southwest Florida businesses to register race participants and boost enthusiasm for the cause. There were a few such parties last year, but not nearly as many, Braden said.

Komen Southwest Florida is also trying to diversify its fundraising events this year, instead of putting everything into the Race for the Cure, Thomas said.

She hopes the non-profit will hire an executive director quickly. She took on the responsibility of interim director (which has no salary) on top of her paid job as a college professor teaching online classes for a Michigan university.

Komen Southwest Florida has received at least 20 applications . According to the non-profit’s website, qualifications include experience managing a budget of at least $750,000 annually and eight years experience in non-profit governance, grant making and staff management.

The new hire will make between $70,000 and $90,000 annually, depending on experience, Thomas said.

“We’ve had some really attractive candidates,” she said.

Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida, which received a $106,132 grant from Komen last year, hasn’t noticed any problems since Ross’ departure.

“The other members of the staff — and we have a very close relationship with several of the board members — they’ve been wonderful,” said Bob Johns, senior vice president of development.

Komen grants provide about a third of Family Health Centers’ funding for its Healthy Body, Healthy Soul program, which reaches out to low-income women in their places of worship. The program offers breast cancer screenings, diagnostics and treatment to uninsured patients.

Since April 1 Family Health Centers has diagnosed seven women in Lee, Hendry and Charlotte counties with breast cancer. All were in an early stage.

“And that’s the point,” Johns said. “And that’s why what Komen does and what they help us do — it’s amazing. And it’s an irrefutable benefit to human lives.”

Connect with this reporter: facebook.com/marisakendallnp (Facebook), @MarisaKendall (Twitter)

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