From Volunteer to Executive Director
By Carol Radin | Photography by Paul Carmen Viggiano
When the opportunity to become first executive director of Paige’s Butterfly Run presented itself, Mary Kate Intaglietta didn’t hesitate.
“I wanted something that tugged at my heartstrings,” she remembered.
The fundraising organization honoring the memory of Paige Yeomans, who was six when she was diagnosed with cancer, tugs at many heartstrings.
The annual walk/run event — the organization’s mainstay since 1997 — benefits pediatric cancer patients and their families. The organization provides support, education and research funding in conjunction with the William J. Waters Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.
As a participant in the walk/run, Mary Kate saw firsthand the growing numbers of runners as the years progressed. Now, she’s where she wants to be, continuing to expand the organization’s impact.
“I try to let people know we’re here all yearround,” she said.
It’s no longer just about the race. Working closely with Paige’s parents, Chris Arnold and Ellen Yeomans, Mary Kate coordinates communication and implementation for a vast array of events aside from the run itself, including an upcoming clambake this month and a Barnes and Noble book fair in December.
Mary Kate touts outreach activities, such as PedPals, a program connecting medical students with pediatric patients for tutoring and social activities; Cancer in the Classroom, an educational program; and Pajamarama, a day devoted to raising awareness and funds at schools.
To get the message out, Mary Kate has worked to enhance the organization’s social media presence. She’s started an Instagram account, updated Facebook and increased email blasts and online stories from cancer survivors.
Now, Mary Kate is focusing on September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. She’s reached out to local restaurants and businesses to promote donation opportunities. She also worked with National Grid and the owners of the Barclay Damon Tower to light up their buildings for September in gold, representing the gold ribbon symbol for childhood cancer.
Mary Kate’s passion for Paige’s Butterfly Run emerged from a personal journey of her own, when heartbreak led to her participation as a runner and a volunteer. When she was 25, Mary Kate fell in love with a man who was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of pediatric bone and tissue cancer.
“I know what it’s like to watch someone go through chemo treatments,” she said. “I know what it’s like to spend all night at someone’s bedside in a hospital.”
When he was well enough to do so, he and Mary Kate walked together for Paige’s Butterfly Run. They were engaged to be married but, after a remission, the cancer returned. Mary Kate’s fiancé passed away in his 20s.
Mary Kate continued volunteering to raise funds for the organization. Professionally, she was drawn to the nonprofit sector, as well. She worked in development for local chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and American Heart Association.
She was working as director of Baltimore Woods when Paige’s parents told her they were building a director’s position into their strategic plan. It was the perfect fit for Mary Kate.
“I wanted my job to have meaning,” she said. Mary Kate, Chris and Ellen work closely with the Upstate Foundation to identify each year’s funding needs. The organization allocates funds for cancer research, family assistance and a scholarship in Paige’s name.
The needs of long-stay patients and their families can be varied. Mary Kate knows sometimes even money for gas and car repair is hard to come by for families who constantly travel to the hospital.
One project packed with empathy is their Comfort Kit. Volunteers fill backpacks with a fleece blanket, water bottle, T-shirts, toiletries and a gift card donated by Camillus Walmart. Hospital social workers distribute the backpacks to newly-diagnosed patients.
Since the organization was founded, it’s grown quite a lot. In 1997, when Paige’s Baldwinsville teachers teamed up with Chris and Ellen to start the run/walk, they raised $2,200. In 2017, the event brought in more than $340,000. This year’s run/walk had 2,500 participants.
The real reward for Mary Kate, though, is the thank you notes, the stories from parents or the sight of a teenager carrying a Paige’s Butterfly Run backpack somewhere far from the hospital. For Mary Kate, that sight is accompanied by hope that the person carrying it is a cancer survivor on a happier journey.
“One of the best parts of the run is the survivor bell,” she said. “I never forget that ring. To me, that’s why we’re here.” SWM
For more information about Paige’s Butterfly Run, visit pbrun.org.