Founded in Towson families' loss, Red Devils still building momentum to aid breast cancer patients

10th anniversary run at Goucher College on June 10

  • From left, organizers of the Red Devils 5k run on June 10 include Joan Worthington, Henry Mitchell, Rebecca Berger (holding Ben Mitchell) and Christopher Schardt. The foundation is hosting its 10th anniversary 5k in memory of Ginny Schardt and Jessica Cowling at Goucher.
From left, organizers of the Red Devils 5k run on June 10 include… (Photo By Noah Scialom )
June 05, 2012|By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

When Christopher Schardt lost his wife, Ginny, to breast cancer 10 years ago, he resolved that her passing could not be in vain.

"We didn't want it to not impact us," he said. "We wanted to do something to change us, to change others, and to make a difference."

On Sunday morning, June 10, the Red Devils, a charity inspired by Ginny Schardt and Towson resident Jessica Cowling, will hold its 10th anniversary 5k run and walk at Goucher College — marking a decade of making a difference in the lives of local breast cancer patients.

Schardt, a Towson University professor and mother of four, and Cowling, a Towson native, met during their treatment, became very close and died within six weeks of each other in 2012.

Their families, who also come to know each other well through separate care-giver therapy sessions, resolved that the culmination of each woman's cancer battle could not be the end of their fight.

"We said, 'We've spent three years fighting this, we can't just give up,' " Christopher Schardt said. "There was a lot of energy and a lot of momentum, and we wanted to make a difference in other people's lives."

They decided to take a path that complemented some of the existing charity work they had encountered.

"We weren't looking for a cure," Christopher Schardt said. "We weren't looking to support the large groups. We were looking to be local, be Baltimore."

While Ginny Schardt was in treatment, her husband had to continue to work in order to keep their medical coverage. Small acts of kindness — the delivery of hot meals, or friends cleaning up around the house — took on huge significance.

"We wanted to create our own network of family for people who didn't have it," he said. "Our goal wasn't to be big, our goal was to be effective. In the early stages, if it meant we were only going to be in the two hospitals that served us, if it was just Hopkins and (Greater Baltimore Medical Center), we were happy."

Chief among their early fundraisers was the annual stroll. Rebecca Berger, who lives in Hampden and was Cowling's best friend, chaired the first few strolls, which were simply walks around Centennial Lake in Howard County.

"It was a very modest event," she said. "It was really about a good time, and a gathering of people for a common cause."

Christopher Schardt said the run eventually grew, and the first "real stroll" brought in $70,000.

"We were told we'd be lucky to see $20,000," he recalled.

With the addition of a 5k that is affiliated with Charm City Run, to the day's agenda, Cowling, who is still on the event committee, said the participation base has grown significantly. Last year's event raised $110,000.

"In terms of our visibility and the people we attract, getting runners involved is a huge step forward," she said. "That's a whole other group of people that can help support our group. They may not be affiliated with our cause, but we're happy to have them."

Jan Wilson, executive director of the Red Devils, said the services supported by the run are wide-ranging. Among them are transportation to and from treatment, child care, mortgage payments, utilities and some medical expenses — as well as the aforementioned food and house-cleaning services.

Annually, Wilson said the organization helps around 600 breast cancer patients, and has a presence at 40 hospitals statewide — including at least one in every county in Maryland. Over the course of its existence, she said, the Red Devils group has made an impact on 4,000 families and invested more than $1.8 million in services.

Christopher Schardt called the 10th anniversary "monumental," both in its sadness and in the difference they've been able to make for others.

Berger said their success is rare in the nonprofit field, where many organizations founded on a family loss never make it to the five-year mark.

"Ten years is a huge milestone," she said. "When a person dies, passion can wane for a cause. This organization is rare and wonderful in that we've maintained enthusiasm for the cause and thrived despite the odds."

Registration for the 10th annual Red Devils run at Goucher College on Sunday, June 10, begins at 7 a.m., and runners and walkers will head out at 8:30 a.m. For more details and registration information, go to http://www.the-red-devils.org.

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