With the Centennial Convention celebrating City of Hope's volunteer fund-raisers, we take this opportunity to highlight a few...
By Roberta Nichols
Bobbie Meltzer Stern’s family has supported City of Hope for five generations – beginning in 1928 when her grandparents, Abe and Razel Rosenfeld, helped found the Portland Builders of Health chapter in Oregon.
A member of City of Hope’s Board of Regents, Stern remembers hearing about the moment the philanthropic torch was first passed to a new generation in her family: her mother, Fern Rosenfeld Meltzer. In 1950, the Rosenfelds and daughter Fern attended a fundraiser for City of Hope in Murietta Hot Springs, Calif. After writing a check to City of Hope, Rosenfeld turned to his daughter and said, “OK, now, it’s your turn.”
“He verbally turned over the reins of leadership to my mother, who proudly accepted the challenge,” Stern said. In 1951, Meltzer founded the Seattle Cancer Guild, which became the Seattle Chapter of City of Hope.
The chapters were instrumental to the growth of City of Hope, particularly in the early days, Stern said. “There were over 570 active chapters throughout the country when I started,” she said. “It was a huge support network fondly called The People’s Movement – and it was. Volunteers nationwide raised thousands of dollars and donated hundreds of hours of valuable time.”
As a child, Stern remembered the contagious enthusiasm of those coming to her home to talk about raising money for a hospital she had never seen and a place she had never heard of – City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. “They were raising money to maintain compassionate, free patient care, always believing: ‘If you’re sick, I should help you; if I’m sick, you should help me.’”
When she was only 9 years old, Stern began taking donation canisters to downtown Seattle, urging strangers to contribute to City of Hope. In high school, she began Donnez Nous, a guild of the Seattle chapter. “We were just kids. We didn’t know how to raise money.”
Yet the “DNs” were deeply motivated – and highly resourceful. One of their first fundraisers involved holding a dessert and fashion show in one of their homes, where they made their own desserts, modeled their own clothes and charged each other for admission.
After college, Stern founded, and became the first president of, the Donnez Nous chapter in 1963, which was made up mostly of young couples from Bellevue and Mercer Island whose parents were actively involved in the Seattle Chapter.
“We went gangbusters!” recalled Stern. After inviting their friends to join, she and the other members soon began outdoing one another with creative fundraising ideas – including fur and lingerie fashion shows, casino nights, kids’ fashion shows, carnivals, athletic events with local celebrities, “no-party parties,” singing telegrams, and cookbooks replete with ads to cover the costs.
The concept of appreciating both large – and small – donations was championed by former City of Hope Chief Executive Officer Ben Horowitz. “’You need the few dollars from the many, as well as the many dollars from the few,’ he’d say. He valued the nickels and dimes as well as the big donations because he knew that someday those nickels and dimes would turn into larger gifts. He taught us to value everybody’s donation,” Stern recalled. “’Every gift is important and every volunteer is a treasure.’”
Today, many healthcare institutions tout their holistic approach, but City of Hope was one of the first to practice this philosophy, Stern said, citing City of Hope’s credo emblazoned on its Golter Gate: “There is no profit in curing the body, if in the process we destroy the soul.” “This philosophy of caring for the whole person has always been part of City of Hope’s DNA, and I hope it never diminishes,” Stern said.
She is motivated to carry on her work not only by this compassionate philosophy, but also by the cutting-edge science at City of Hope. She remembers the excitement generated when City of Hope geneticist Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., now director emeritus of Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope, helped synthesize the human insulin gene, leading to the creation of synthetic human insulin. “To be part of something that changes science,” said Stern, “how awesome is that?”
During the more than 60 years she has been promoting the institution, Stern has personally met and heard countless stories about patients who have been saved at City of Hope – after other hospitals declared their cases hopeless. “What they’re really saying is that they can’t help you, but what I say is don’t give up,” she advises those with dire diagnoses. “Get another opinion at City of Hope.”
Stern’s son and two daughters have shared her support of City of Hope over the years, and now her grandchildren have joined the cause, ringing doorbells for the Seattle Walk for Hope, just as Stern did as a child. Her husband, Michel, also has been a consistently invaluable fundraiser for the Walk. Quietly recruiting his friends to sponsor him, he has become the event’s top fundraiser each year.
A tireless fundraiser, Stern has raised millions of dollars for City of Hope through individual donors and corporations. She was the youngest person ever elected to serve on the Board of Directors, and was named to City of Hope’s “Gallery of Achievement,” the most prestigious honor the medical center can bestow on a lay leader.
“To this day, I really believe that we can and are making a difference in the lives of people worldwide," Stern said. "My goal is to be alive when the cancer breakthrough happens.”