On Oct. 25, thousands of walkers and runners will lace up their sneakers and take to the streets starting at the Executive Plaza parking lots, in Hunt Valley, for the 2015 Susan G. Komen Maryland Race for the Cure.
The event will mark the culmination of a year of fundraising for many participants and will serve as an opportunity to come together as a community in support of breast cancer awareness and research funding.
Among the participants will be the Pink Pals, a team made up of the Paladino family, of Owings Mills, and their friends and associates.
The Paladinos aren't newcomers to the race scene — in fact, this will be the 19th consecutive year that the family will be attending the event.
Debbi Paladino, 53, started fundraising for Susan G. Komen Maryland in 1996, after she lost her mother to breast cancer.
"She died young at 67 from breast cancer," Debbi said. "We hadn't had any breast cancer in our family before that and it was quite a shock but to be brought up doing community service and philanthropy, it was just pretty easy to become involved with Susan G. Komen and all that they were doing and know that you could be a part of that and really make a difference."
But while she has consistently fundraised for almost two decades, her efforts with the organization haven't been limited to raising money.
"Debbi has been an invaluable volunteer for Susan G. Komen over the years. Not only has she served on the board but she served on the race committee for a number of years and also served as an in-office volunteer — she would come into the office and help answer the phones during our busy race season … she also managed our team program for a while, helped us recruit teams, especially school teams, which was very helpful, and she just has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and dedication toward the cause of breast cancer research and support," said Kim Schmulowitz, communications and marketing director for Susan G. Komen Maryland.
She sat on the race board for six years — longer than the typical four-year term — chaired several committees, and even helping to start the media sponsor lounge, a tented area at the race that gives media personnel and sponsors the chance to get out of the elements and take a break from race festivities.
"Probably every committee that there was I think I was on it … but in the last six years I helped start the media sponsor lounge, so I volunteered primarily doing that, but always fundraising," Debbi said.
Before her mother died, Debbi followed her example of philanthropy by being involved in a wide range of organizations, from Habitat to Humanity to the American Cancer Society. With a role model like hers, Debbi said, that example has been "pretty easy to follow."
"Besides being my best friend, [my mom was] just always there for me, always there for everybody. Never said 'no' to anybody. Just always was willing to roll up her sleeves and help with anything, any charity, anybody that needed help she was always there for them and always there for my sister and myself, and always there for her grandchildren, just you could always count on her," Debbi said.
And for the Paladinos, giving back is a family affair.
Debbi's husband, Andy, continues to use his business, the Paladino Financial Group, to help out as well.
"Through my business, I'm a sponsor of the race and I have been doing it for at least for the last 10 years and maybe a little bit more," he said. "I have a financial radio show on Saturday mornings. So throughout the year, so my show is an hour long and I have two or three commercial breaks and throughout the year I donate to them commercial time for like general ads for Komen dealing with like car donations or to support, I guess, there's a general commercial they have to support Komen, or maybe for check-ups and things like that."
The couple's three children, Skyler, 23, Trevor, 21, and Cammi, 16, have grown up with philanthropy at the center of their activites.
"My children started when they were young. When I started at Komen my oldest was probably 5. Then I went on to have two more children; they just always did the race. I was brought up doing philanthropy, so my children, philanthropy … is just something they do," Debbi said.
Her oldest sons, now in college, come back to participate in the race when they can, and continue to participate in charitable works, both with Susan G. Komen and other organizations.
"If they can come home and be a part of the race, they do. They always sign up; they always help with the [team race] website — anything that we need, they're always very supportive and they do their own charities now. One of my boys is in a fraternity and they have their own philanthropy that they do … my older one was very involved in Habitat for Humanity in high school and again is always supportive for Komen. It's in their blood; they can't help it. I don't even have to make them; they just do it," she said.
Cammie is a top fundraiser, making the Pink Honor Roll for four consecutive years.
"[The Pink Honor Roll] used to be the top 100 fundraisers for race for the cure … they've just changed it in the last few years and its anyone who gets over and above $1,250," Debbi said.
Cammie said she feels accomplished knowing that her "hard work for fundraising has paid off and is helping people who are affected with breast cancer by raising money."
Over the past 19 years, the family has raised at least $30,000, Debbi said.
"It's great," Andy said. "They've done a great job, my wife and the kids. They've all done really good. Our family team, originally it was our older son, then our middle son, now our daughter … they've done a really great job."
Schmulowitz said having participants like the Paladino family is "essential to the success" of the organization.
"Susan G. Komen started out as a grassroots organization and we still depend on a lot of grassroots support in the community for our success, whether it be through volunteering and talking about breast health to volunteering at different events. We have a small staff and a limited budget so this participation by people in the community like the Paladinos is vital to our organization," she said.
Debbi just recently took a break from her more hands-on volunteerism at the Susan G. Komen Foundation to focus more primarily on fundraising and her family, as Cammi is currently touring the country as a member of the Washington Pride, a "collegebound junior girls hockey team."
But there's no end in sight for the family's fundraising efforts. For them, being a part of Susan G. Komen has become something of a family tradition.
"It just sort of became a part of my life and I couldn't imagine doing anything else. And there were other charities that asked me to be involved and this point in my life I just didn't feel like that was what I wanted to do and I just wanted to be involved in Komen and help make a difference. I've seen so many things that research has accomplished in the last few years especially … just to be involved and make sure that I was doing my part like I think everybody should. I'm not a martyr; I'm not different from anybody else. I just feel like you should do your part if you can to make a difference in this world and that's all I've ever tried to do and that's all I've taught my children to do," Debbi said.