Man on a mission for `Building Cures'

Ellicott City resident is nation's top fundraiser for blood cancer

October 13, 2006|By Janet Gilbert | Janet Gilbert,special to the sun

Rich Marcinek didn't set out to be the top national fundraiser for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society last year. But, it's not surprising that he did.

"He just mobilizes people. He has that kind of personality," said Stela Moen, campaign manager for "Team in Training" and "Light the Night" at the Maryland Chapter of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

A senior manager with Ryan Homes in Beltsville, the 40-year-old Ellicott City resident raised $105,000.

While the building industry is often asked to be involved in charity events, Marcinek said time can be an issue. "Builders want to give back," he said, "but different charity events like golf tournaments would take too much time."

Marcinek used a simple approach to fundraising that he thought would allow everyone to participate, from the largest area builders to the smallest drywall contractors. He asked for donations for his campaign, aptly named "Building Cures." In his letters soliciting contributions, Marcinek writes: "There isn't any golf or gala or dinners to attend. We aren't asking for any of your time. We do need your financial help - as I've said before, it wouldn't be much of a fundraiser if we didn't raise any funds."

He concentrated his efforts between August and October last year, making personal contacts and writing letters. "It's my evening job every September," Marcinek writes in the e-mail he sends to his contact list.

"I got so many positive responses," Marcinek said. "I'd ask for one hundred, five hundred [as a contribution], and I'd get a thousand to five thousand. It definitely surprised me."

He added: "Some of the more meaningful gifts come from people who don't have a lot."

Marcinek became involved in the society four years ago.

"I knew some people affected by it [blood cancer]," he said, adding, "it's the number one disease killer of children."

Marcinek said he learned "that there were a number of people within our industry facing the disease. Within my own division, there are two people who have lost a parent."

Leukemia, Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and myeloma are cancers originating in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissue. According to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Web site, more than 700,000 Americans are living with a blood cancer, and 151 people per day succumb to this category of the disease - one person every 10 minutes. The society sees its mission as finding a cure and improving the quality of life for patients and their families.

Moen said that years ago, a diagnosis of lymphoma or leukemia was a death sentence.

"In 1960, the survival rate [for the most common form of leukemia] was 4 percent. Today, it is over 85 percent," said Moen, a lymphoma survivor who was so inspired by the organization that she left her job as an environmental engineer to work for the society.

While acknowledging the improvements in treatment, Moen said, "There is tremendous work to be done and vital funds needed."

Marcinek's wife, Christina, supported her husband's fundraising efforts by helping organize an auction last year that raised $11,000.

"I'm the background support person," Christina said. "He makes things happen."

Christina said Marcinek's sales background served him well in his fundraising efforts. "There was nobody `too big' for him to approach," said Christina. "He wrote to Eddie Van Halen [to get a guitar autographed] - and he took a guitar to a Sarah McLachlan concert - he didn't have an appointment or anything, he just kept asking people to take it back and see if she would sign it, saying it was for a good cause. She did."

Marcinek said he "got off to a little later start this year" and hopes to raise $50,000 by the end of October. This year, he's set up a Web site for donations

"You just try to do the best you can every year," he said. "It's not like I'm trying to top it [last year's donation amount] - I'd be amazed to reach that level again."

What attracts Marcinek to the cause, he said, is that "they're making progress very tangibly."

Marcinek says 75 cents of every dollar the society receives goes to funding research and patient services. The society's Web site mentions a relatively new medication, Gleevec, which is producing results in patients and is a result of research funded by the society.

As the top fundraiser last year, Marcinek was invited to visit the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to observe cancer researchers at work.

"I looked at slides, saw what they were working on," Marcinek said. "You could see the hundreds of tests [required] to create a vaccine." Marcinek said he saw the expensive equipment required, and thought, "that's 50K right there."

"It's not a cause you can walk away from," Marcinek said.

To contact Marcinek about getting involved, e-mail him at .

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