With the Centennial Convention celebrating City of Hope's volunteer fund-raisers, we take this opportunity to highlight a few...
By Roberta Nichols
While living in Manhattan during the 1960s, Rhoda Ehrlich had heard about City of Hope through local chapters raising money for the cancer research hospital near Los Angeles.
She would never suspect that in 1965, she would lose her own 19-year-old daughter, Phyllis Dropkin, to a malignant brain tumor.
To honor her daughter, and help find a cure for the disease that took her life, Ehrlich’s friends formed their own fundraising chapter for City of Hope. “A good many of us lived on East End Avenue – on the upper east side of New York on the East River. We decided to call it the East End Chapter/Phyllis Dropkin Foundation.”
The activity helped her navigate the fog of grief, Ehrlich recalled.
“I have to tell you in all honesty, getting myself so thoroughly involved learning about the work that was being done at City of Hope, I got caught up in it – the feeling that I could help another mother.”
In 1973, due to her husband Seymour’s heart condition, they moved to Sunny Isles, Fla. (near South Beach). That same year, the couple flew to City of Hope, where Seymour Ehrlich underwent heart bypass surgery that gave him another 26 years of life.
After moving to Florida, Ehrlich continued her fundraising efforts for City of Hope, establishing the Phyllis Dropkin chapter, one of the oldest existing chapters in the area. Since its inception, it has raised more than $3.5 million.
Today, Ehrlich is president of City of Hope’s South East Region, which encompasses Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
She recently attended City of Hope’s Centennial Convention, adding that she's been to every City of Hope convention since 1967, when “I wanted to see what I was so actively supporting.” Nearly 46 years later, she still remembers her first impressions of the “low buildings,” lush gardens and the beautiful campus which was “more like a lovely spa than a hospital.”
She also remembers the labs where she met researchers whose work promised to save other children.
“The conventions were wonderful,” said Ehrlich. “They gave opportunity to people who were active in the City of Hope but had never seen it, so it was very inspirational for them to visit the hospital to have actual contact with doctors and scientists. They would come back to South Florida and be able to relate personally. We weren’t talking about a myth; there is this wonderful place.”
In view of the fierce competition for charity dollars, it might have been a difficult sell – but not for Ehrlich. “There were hospitals here in South Miami. Of course, none of them could actually compete with what City of Hope was doing – trying to find cures for catastrophic diseases.”
Over the years, Ehrlich has persuaded myriad people to become generous supporters of City of Hope.
Some are moved to donate when they meet patients. “It’s always very meaningful to meet someone who was told they weren’t going to live, then came to City of Hope and were cured,” she said.
These days, the chapters must not only compete with other charities, but with time. “A lot of chapters have been abandoned because of the age of the members,” Ehrlich said.
There has also been a dramatic cultural paradigm shift since the days when “mother was the homemaker, and daddy went out to work,” Ehrlich said. Today, both are often involved in careers and can’t devote as much time to philanthropic activities, she points out.
Yet, thanks to traditions instilled in countless households, younger generations are still taking time to support this organization that their parents sustained. Ehrlich’s daughter, Cheryl Borek, for instance, who lives in Jacksonville, came to the convention. Ehrlich’s son, Charles, who lives in Miami, couldn't make it to the convention but “he has been very helpful in recruiting money for City of Hope for me,” she said.
New generations of City of Hope supporters are sharing the news of how discoveries in the laboratory are more quickly translated to patients.
“Lives are saved here and all over the world because of what goes on in Duarte,” said Ehrlich.