RYE, N.Y. – Thirteen years ago Rye’s Sandy Samberg took initial steps toward helping a friend who was fighting breast cancer. That was just the beginning of group now called Sole Ryeders & Friends , which has mushroomed into a wide-reaching philanthropic organization supporting events ranging from wine tastings to overnight walks and wig exchanges.
The primary objective for each activity is consistent with Samberg’s first premise, to help people and families dealing with cancer. What surprises her is the tangents the organization has broken into.
“I definitely am surprised by how we’ve grown over the years. It’s been a very grass roots effort. We recognize a cancer-related need in the community and then try to find a way to address it,’’ Samberg said. “Lynn Halpern joined the team in 2007, and she had this idea to bring in a speaker. The event was a success and it made us think that we should do other things in addition to the walk. In every year that has followed, we’ve started new programs to meet the various needs that we’ve identified.”
Samberg registered for the Avon Breast Cancer Walk in 2000. A health issue precluded her from participating, but she went to the event and waited at the finish line for her friend. “I remember exactly where I was standing that day in Central Park,’’ she wrote on the Sole Ryeders website, “when I made a promise to myself that someday I would do the walk.”
Her friend died six years later, and she fulfilled her promise to herself by walking in the two-day, 39.3 mile Avon event for the first time in 2006. After having such a positive experience, she started Sole Ryeders in 2007 and they raised $130,000 with 35 walkers.
Sole Ryeders members still make the walk each October. Instead of building around a singular event though, Sole Ryeders has branched out. Some of the events are social, such as April's “Beers & Cheers” in Port Chester. Some are kid friendly, like the "Cover The Court With Coins" at the Rye Recreation Tennis Courts on May 11. Some are active, such as the "Cancer Climb" in Massachusetts in September. All of them raise funds to support local cancer-related programs.
“In part, I do it in memory of my close friend,’’ Samberg said. “I know how proud she would be that this community organization exists. I also realize what a difference we’re able to make. I’m fortunate that I’m able to volunteer. My husband and family have been very supportive of it. I think with my background in nursing (she is a pediatric nurse practitioner) that it’s right for me. While I never worked with cancer patients before Sole Ryeders, once a nurse, always a nurse.”
While Samberg’s work has gone off in a completely unanticipated direction, she would not change it for the world. The many hard working and dedicated Sole Ryeders volunteers and the people she has helped have become her community.
“We have amazing volunteers,’’ she said. “I love how people have met each other through it. The friendships that have emerged are unbelievable. I have friends ranging from their 20s to their 60s, all races, religions and genders. I feel so fortunate for everything I’ve learned and everyone I’ve had the privilege to meet through Sole Ryeders.”