This month, we are excited to profile longtime SHARE Ambassador Coordinator, Agnes Rita Fortune. Rita first came to SHARE more than 12 years ago after participating in a breast cancer fundraising walk where she met a SHARE support group facilitator. Rita joined the support group, located in her Queens neighborhood, and then began volunteering in the newly created Ambassador program. The Ambassador program trains women who have had a cancer diagnosis to share information in the community about signs, symptoms, screening and treatment options.
More than a decade later, Rita is a coordinator of the program, which now employs 12 Black women as Ambassadors in communities across New York City. Ambassadors are no longer volunteers, but paid employees, and the program reaches thousands each year. For Rita, it’s still a labor of love and a chance to give back to her community.
“When I started as an Ambassador I felt it was a worthy cause. I went throughout all the boroughs, and it was really important to me - I felt that if I didn’t do it, these neighborhoods wouldn’t get this information. I went to health fairs, did presentations, and answered questions. I also had a chance to learn by attending NBCC conferences, Project Lead, and other training opportunities. SHARE gave me a chance to learn, and then I was able to share what I learned with women in the community.”
Rita emphasizes the importance of her own breast cancer experience, and how hard it can be to reach people because of their fear. “I have to work hard - people don’t want to hear about cancer. I have to bring them back because it’s a taboo subject. It helps to relate to them and tell them I’m a 15-year survivor. You have to let them know it’s not a death sentence, and early detection is so important.”
The Covid-19 pandemic made outreach difficult because face-to-face contact is so crucial. When you’re in person, Rita observes, “ You can see the look on their face and know if you’re getting through. On zoom it can be harder to ask personal questions, but in person they can come up after a presentation and speak one-on-one.”
Asked what the most important part of her Ambassador work is, Rita responded “We are the grassroots of SHARE - we are out there, walking the pavement in the city. Other groups are not out there on the streets, but we are there - at schools, libraries, senior centers. They know that someone is coming to them, where they are. It’s the unique part of SHARE.”
Thank you for your work RIta, and for giving us a glimpse inside SHARE!