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INTERVIEW: Ellen Hermanson Foundation Founder Julie Ratner On The "Tickled Pink Virtual Variety Show," Celebrating Community Heroes And Women Of East End Media, And More

Nicole Barylski

Michele Balan, who appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing, will emcee the benefit. (Photo: Lisa Tamburini/www.hamptonsphotog.com)

On Saturday, March 6, join the Ellen Hermanson Foundation for an evening of laughs, magic, and entertainment during the Tickled Pink Virtual Variety Show. Michele Balan, who appeared on NBC's Last Comic Standing, will emcee the benefit, which commences at 6:00 p.m. In addition to Balan, headliners include Valerie diLorenzo, Mimi Gonzalez, Marion Grodin, Susan Jeremy, Angela LaGreca, Wendy Liebman, and Madeleine The Magician.

The evening will pay tribute to Community Heroes, including volunteer leader Sara Blue, The Ellen Hermanson Foundation and Maureen's Haven; artist activist April Gornik, Sag Harbor Cinema and The Church; community champion Evelyn Ramunno, Sag Harbor Community Food Pantry; advocate and educator Marguerite A. Smith, Esq., Citizen, Shinnecock Indian Nation; and healer and survivor Moira Squires, ICU Nurse and Founder, Warriors of the East End.

Tickled Pink will also celebrate Women of the East End Media, including Carissa Katz, The East Hampton Star Managing Editor, Bridget LeRoy, WLIW 88.3 FM Radio Host and Co-Founder and former managing editor of The Independent, Jessica Mackin-Cipro, James Lane Post Co-Publisher and Editor, Kathryn G. Menu, The Express News Group Co-Publisher, Helen S. Rattray, The East Hampton Star Publisher, Victoria Schneps-Yunis, Dan's Papers President and Co-Publisher, Taylor K. Vecsey, Dan's Papers' Behind the Hedges Editor-in-Chief, and yours truly.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Julie Ratner, Ellen Hermanson Foundation Founder, about the hilarious fête, benefit honorees, what proceeds will support, and more.

I have to start by thanking you for honoring me alongside such an exceptional group of women.

JR: You're all exceptional. And you know, I don't know that enough attention has been placed on women in media, especially print media. My daughter is an editor in The Nation magazine. I told her what we were doing and she was so excited. She said, "It's about time."

Tickled Pink has a dynamic lineup of entertainers. Could you speak a bit about the evening's talent and what virtual attendees can expect?

JR: We have an amazing lineup of people. A lot are breast cancer survivors, which they talk about, which just is sort of coming full circle - and it's all about who we are and what we do. That actually shows that breast cancer is just one part of who you are, it doesn't define who you are. I think that's really important, because it's very consuming when one has it. But one has a big life and life continues. As with so many of the people involved in this event indicates, is that there is so much more to life and that breast cancer doesn't define you. It's just an aspect of life, but there's also so much more.

So, our entertainers, we have Valerie diLorenzo, who's this beautiful cabaret artist and she has this gorgeous voice. She'll be entertaining us with a song. Marion Grodin is a stand-up comedian and she's hysterical. Madeleine The Magician. I was watching her so carefully, we saw a preview of it. I thought, up close I'm going to watch every trick and figure it out. I didn't. Not even close. We have Mimi Gonzalez, who's a poet, and she recited one of her poems. It's absolutely beautiful.

The evening's going to be fun and funny, with some poignant moments to it, which I think is what it ought to be. And the honorees... I'm really pleased that we are focusing on our mission, which is to ensure access to quality breast health care, to all women and to reach out to communities of women who are underserved, who could be on the margins, and who personally probably put their lives on the back burner, because there's so much stress in their lives.

Speaking of that, the evening will support access to breast health care, in partnership with the Southampton Hospital Foundation, The Center, OLA of Eastern Long Island, The Retreat, and The Pink Shawl Project. Could you speak about that a little bit?

JR: For years, we've had this wonderful collaborative relationship with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Early on, we, the Foundation board and me, realized that there was a huge need for access to state of the art, quality breast health care here for women in this community - because the rates of diagnosis are quite high, and one should not have to leave her community to get service. As we started funding different equipment and different technology at the Breast Center, it became our mission to make sure that the Breast Center, at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, had what it needed to serve women in this community, our community. We always work with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital because of the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center, which was opened in 2009.

In terms of The Center, OLA, The Retreat, and The Pink Shawl Project, these organizations are all targeted towards specific communities of women who tend to be on the margins, tend to be challenged at times, and to be underserved - and the breast cancer incidence in these communities can be high. Loretta Davis [The Retreat Executive Director] said in her piece that she taped: "Women who are struggling to stay alive, who are struggling in abusive relationships, the last thing they're going to take care of is their own health, or their own breast health." We know that early detection is critical to wellness and to getting better and to beating this disease. If you're so stressed that you can't take care of yourself, that's the last thing you're going to do is go for a mammogram. And we want to make sure that women are getting this surveillance in a timely fashion.

How has the pandemic impacted the Foundation and services offered?

JR: That's sort of a two-part question - because the Foundation, we receive proposals for grants and then we fund these grants. This year, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital made a proposal for a specific piece of equipment called the Hologic LOCalizer™ wire-free guidance system. It is a system that is used before biopsies to identified lesions. Without getting too technical, in the not that distant past, if a woman was having a biopsy, before the biopsy, a wire had to be inserted into her breast at the exact spot where the biopsy needed to be performed to locate the lesion in the breast. So she would go home with this little wire sticking out of her breast. It is uncomfortable and is a little traumatic. With this wire localization system, all of that goes away. It's a whole different way of identifying where lesions are. It just improves the standard of care enormously. That was one thing that the hospital requested. So we work with them to try to fund proposals that are really important that will ensure that the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center remains the state of the art facility, commensurate with any hospital anywhere. We might be a little community hospital, but this Breast Center can go up against any breast center anywhere in our country, because it's that good.

For us, the challenge during COVID-19, and probably everyone else, is raising money and thinking of ways to raise money, to bring people to the computer, so to speak. Our last event in person was Tickled Pink, last year in February. Honestly, we usually do our Tickled Pink, our winter benefit, in March. Because my daughter was having a baby and we weren't sure if it was going to come March 1st, March 5th, whenever the baby was going to be born, I said I needed to do it earlier, because I don't want to miss my own event. I didn't want to miss my granddaughter being born. It was just so fortuitous, because by having our event in February, we actually were able to have a winter benefit. Whereas having had it in March, like we usually do, we probably would have had to cancel it.

To go back to how COVID-19 has affected us. I think it's affected us like everyone else. We can't have our meetings in person. The Ellen Hermanson Foundation has a huge community of volunteers. I'd like to think of us as a family where people have come as a volunteer and walked out with a really great new friend. People look after each other, they call each other. So we can't meet in person and we've had to change how we do business. We do everything, like everyone else, over Zoom or over the phone.

This past summer, in July, was to have been our 25th anniversary gala, celebrating 25 years of being part of this community. We were in the process of planning, I think, what would have been a fabulous event at the Bridgehampton Tennis & Surf Club. We were so excited. And then in April, when we saw the way the numbers were going, we pulled the event, and we had to cancel it. Then we went to a virtual format and we had a fantastic summer gala. It was a shave under an hour, it was fast moving, it was tight, it was funny, it was emotional, and it was relevant. There was something in there for everyone. The honorees were terrific, the MC - Lucas Hunt, was great. And our producer, Christiane Arbesu, was terrific. It was a very successful event and then we did our run. And that was virtual. We had about almost 400 people participate virtually. Usually we have close to 1,000 people - and you have all that energy and the music and the singing and the good runners are sort of pacing back and forth. The normal runners and the shleppers are just standing around, waiting for a good time. It's just beautiful, fantastic, wonderful energy. And that just didn't happen.

People are wonderful, they still supported us. We did well enough this past year, in 2020 - pandemic and all, to make grants totaling $250,000.

That's amazing.

JR: It was really good. I'm grateful to every single person who supports this event. I'm grateful to every single volunteer who helped us through all of this - and to this community out here where we live, who still continues to embrace the Ellen Hermanson Foundation. I think that happens because we actually are of the community and by the community and for the community, we keep our money here. And it's our belief that access to healthcare is a human right, that includes breast health care. We do the best we can to make sure we fulfill our mission.

So it affects our programs in how much money we're able to make and how much we're able to fund. But once we fund a program, because it's in our bylaws, it's how this Foundation is set up, once we fund it, we walk away from it. It's then up to the people funded and to the organization that distributes funds.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JR: I hope everyone who reads your article will tune in to the Tickled Pink Virtual Variety Show. It is one hour, it will be fast, it'll be fun. You'll laugh, there's some times that are just so hysterical. They're laugh out loud, a little bit off color. I think it's just really great. And then all the money that we make, it will benefit these wonderful organizations.

I just want to say one thing, because I'm so proud to be able to honor women in media, because I think the women in media in this community, each one is a stellar journalist, and has really been committed to the community, telling our stories, telling the stories of this community, keeping us in the know. It is really, really a great service. And for our community heroes, each one of the five women we chose comes from a different kind of community of people who represents great diversity, but what they have in common is a huge heart, deep caring and commitment to the community, to people. And I think that's the same about the journalists also, the women in media who we're honoring. Everyone is so deeply committed to this community and works from a place of grace - and that's just beautiful.

There is no fee to attend, but advanced registration is required.

To register, or for more information, visit www.ellenhermanson.org.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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