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“What really moved me into becoming a champion of this cause — I am a cancer survivor.”
Laura Capello, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona was shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has no family history and was otherwise healthy.
Capello studied journalism at Arizona State University and dreamed of being a sports reporter. After realizing that wasn’t the right job for her, she considered a “very good” offer in Corporate America. But the non-profit world was pulling at her heart strings.
Then cancer happened.
Capello, a single mom who is used to taking care of everyone else, was in shock.
“Being diagnosed with any type of disease is surreal. When you go through something like that you are at your most vulnerable. When I was going through cancer and had so many people who got me through that, and forced me to be vulnerable. It really made me see how much we need each other.”
Through cancer, Capello learned a lot about vulnerability. “I still hear from so many women they don’t think of it as an asset. But that’s when you learn your best lessons, when you let yourself be vulnerable.”
Capello thinks back on the mentors she had, growing up in a single parent home, and later the mentors who helped her make it through the emotional struggle with cancer. She credits them with the type of work she is doing today.
Big Brothers Big Sisters, which has been around for 60 years, matches at-risk kids with mentors who help them see light at the end of some very dark tunnels.
“We don’t ask our mentors to be surrogate parents, saviors, or piggy banks. Case managers monitor the cases monthly to make sure it is a healthy match — and that there is support for the mentors.”
She points to a recent study that considers the benefits of mentoring versus incarceration. “How much does it cost to incarcerate a child? $106,00 a year,” Capello says, “Where on average it is $1200 to provide a mentor to a child.”
Capello herself is a mentor to a little sister (her third since becoming CEO). She’s a realist. A tough, self-made woman who grew up not with a lot of money, but with a lot of love and pride.
Cancer made her even stronger, more prideful, and more determined to help others –especially kids — fight for their lives.
“People have choices, and just because you are in bad circumstances doesn’t mean you can’t get out of it. But you have to work hard toward your dreams.”