October 25, 2021

Fundraiser goes digital with an open challenge

Photo provided by Sara Worden

Jennifer Gabriel, director of development of Hospicare & Palliative Care Services.

Joan Jacobs Brumberg of Ithaca went to her doctor for her 60th birthday physical.

Everything was fine, thank goodness, but a little chat ensued with Dr. Ann Costello.

The doctor said: “What would you like to do which you have not yet done?”

“Which I thought was an interesting question,” Jacobs Brumberg said. “A lot more like a psychologist than a general practitioner … and I said almost immediately, ‘Well, I want to swim across the lake.’

The lake was Cayuga Lake. “I was thinking about it ever since I moved to Ithaca in 1977,” the swimmer said. “I never thought of how to do it at all.”

“Ann said, ‘I will do that with you.’ She had done it one other time with another patient.”

The two decided to make it a fundraiser for Hospicare.

“We had both had moms taken care of by Hospicare of Tompkins County, then the agency’s name,” Jacobs Brumberg said.

Today known as Hospicare & Palliative Care Services, the agency provides comfort care to people who are dying, in Cortland and Tompkins counties, whether in their own homes, hospitals, nursing homes or its Ithaca facility. Cortland’s office is on Kennedy Parkway.

“People are passionate about the mission of the agency,” Jacobs Brumberg said. “We want to be there for our families and ourselves.”

Idea takes off

They thought of who they could get to do the 1.2-mile swim with them. Jacobs Brumberg partnered with Sharon Morehouse, a real estate agent smart about money. Jacobs Brumberg headed the organization. They got the approval of a leery Hospicare board of directors and corralled volunteers.

Women Swimmin’, a charity swim across Cayuga Lake to raise money for Hospicare, was born.

Photo provided by Sara Worden

Women at Women Swimmin’ event in Ithaca.

“I bet we could raise $5,000,” Jacobs Brumberg said. “The first year, we had 75 people and I believe we made over $60,000.”

Jaws dropped, particularly on the board of directors.

Not only that, but they had to postpone the swim for a day because of weather. “Saturday was horrible. Sunday was beautiful,” she said.

The event has morphed into a 350-women swim, a crew of volunteer boaters to keep the women safe, food from Ithaca Bakery, music from Yardvarks, and a host of supporters on the shore.

“It’s a huge event,” said Jacobs Brumberg, now 76, and still involved in what has become the hospice’s signature fundraiser. “It’s very cool.”

“Last year there were 350 women, from 18 to 80 I believe. I am one of the oldest now. They are all shapes and sizes and colors. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s about who has the determination and the grit … to swim across the lake,” Jacobs Brumberg said.

They raised $440,000 last year.

Event goes virtual

This year’s event will skip the lake and its offshoot, lap swim challenges in pools, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s clear that this year we can’t do it. Sometimes you have a 1,000 people on the shore,” Jacobs Brumberg said.

Photos provided by Sara Worden

Joan Jacobs Brumberg of Ithaca with a Women Swimmin’ mask.

Women Swimmin’ is being transformed to a virtual fundraiser open to men and women, young people and teens with an open challenge specific to each person.

“In a lot of ways, the pandemic is having us come back to our beginnings,” said Jennifer Gabriel, director of development at Hospicare and Palliative Care Services. “What do you want to do that you have not done before? That’s the question we are asking the community.”

Is it running a marathon, supporting the local economy by buying local? Doing a random act of kindness every day?

It’s wide open. As is the fundraising. There is no required $250 to raise. “Any amount that someone raises is fine,” Gabriel said, although incentives are built-in to encourage people to raise more.

Hospice officials wanted to use the fundraiser to make people feel good and to bring people together, Gabriel said.

The event, which began this month, continues through Aug. 8.

“We want people to tell us how you want to go the distance for hospicare,” Gabriel said.

The possibilities

“I am going to be donning floatations and swimming cap and perform to Steven Bryant’s ‘Ecstatic Waters,’” said Evan D. Williams, a marketing manager at Challenge Industries, which provides pre-employment and job skills to people with disabilities and regularly provides a team of volunteers to Women Swimmin’.

Williams will do a a 53-minute modern dance performance. The top donor gets a photo memento.

It’s a virtual challenge for a real fundraiser. “It opens it up to more than swimming,” said Barb Closson, president of Hospice Foundation of Cortland County. “You can do walking, biking, running … this gets a variety of (activities) and allows you to raise funds for hospice at the same time.”

Mary Coffey, director of events at the YWCA in Cortland, is mulling over three hours of planks and 3,000 push-ups, “lazy woman that I am.”

“I want it to be challenging, yet attainable,” she said. Hopefully, I won’t be scrambling at the end.”

Mary Fadale of Homer was doing the Women Swimmin’ lap program at the YWCA when it shut down. She’s considering getting on her bike, instead.

Photo provided by Sara Worden

Joan Jacobs Brumberg is a regular at Women Swimmin’ on Cayuga Lake.


Vital fundraiser

Hospicare denies no person for lack of funds. It typically accepts a person’s insurance.

The agency relies on the Women Swimmin’ event to raise nearly half of what it needs — $1 million — to pay for what insurance doesn’t cover and for uninsured patients, Gabriel said.

“I had major misconceptions about Hospicare services,” Coffey said. “I thought they were for cancer patients. My dad was very ill and it was suggested that I contact Hospicare. He was accepted into their beautiful, Ithaca residence and it was an amazing experience.”

“As an only child, it was difficult to take responsibility for all of the decisions that needed to be made as we maneuvered through this formidable unknown. The Hospicare staff was extraordinary. The staff took care of everything and talked me through any concerns,” Coffey said. “Dad lived there less than a week. It was truly a blessing to be there with him until his death.”

In the water

“This (pandemic) has forced us to adapt to a new way of doing things,” Closson said. “And sometimes that opens doors.”

“I am sad that this has to happen,” said Jacobs Brumberg, about the swim cancellation. “There’s a sadness in it but what we have been asked to do is clever, fun, and challenging.”

“My commitment is vague. I want to be in the water for 100 hours between the Fourth of July and Aug. 8,” Jacobs Brumberg said. “It’s my tribute to Cayuga Lake. I want to be in the water.”

Photo provided by Sara Worden

It takes grit to swim 1.2 miles across Cayuga Lake. Women celebrate at Women Swimmin’.