Waggener Makes Connections as Hub for Cancer Community

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 108 views 

As executive director of The Cancer Challenge since 1997, Tina Waggener sees the nonprofit as a “connector” that collaborates with businesses, schools, individuals and others who work to support cancer care in Northwest Arkansas.

“It’s really neat to see the community working together,” Waggener said. “I think The Cancer Challenge has been a big part of bringing people together and inspiring and influencing them to work together,” both as fundraisers and as grant recipients.

Under Waggener’s leadership, The Cancer Challenge was honored in 2003 by the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals as its outstanding philanthropic organization.

Since its inception in 1993, The Cancer Challenge has invested more than $9 million in Northwest Arkansas for direct patient services such as treatment, financial and emotional assistance, transportation, early detection screenings for the uninsured and community education and outreach.

Named to the 2001 class of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40, Waggener said many highlights of the last decade revolve around working with teens.

“We have quite a few cancer survivors who are teens,” Waggener said. “Working with them and their families has really opened up my eyes to the whole cancer journey.”

In 2009, she launched the Teen Cancer Challenge, working with local teens during the school year to raise awareness and funds for cancer care.

To date, Teen Cancer Challenge has generated more than $70,000 for local cancer programs, including bringing pediatric oncology services to Northwest Arkansas via Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s Centers for Children in Lowell.

The Cancer Challenge’s main fundraiser, held each June, includes three days of activities with golf and tennis tournaments, trap shooting, a run/walk and a glitzy gala.

The event “is the financial engine behind those efforts and is the key to us furthering the mission,” Waggener said. And she’s proud of the fact that less than 10 percent of the money raised each year goes toward the organization’s expenses.

In 2011, the event funded grants to the Community Clinic at St. Francis House in Springdale and Rogers; Hope Cancer Resources in Springdale; and Washington Regional’s Cancer Support Home in Bentonville and Fayetteville.

New at this year’s event, to be held June 21-23, is a wine and cheese social for adults taking part in the tennis tournament.

Also, extreme sports shooter Patrick Flanigan, who was scheduled to appear last year but had to cancel at the last minute, will give a shooting exhibition.

More than 350 volunteers help pull off the event each year, and Waggener said working with them is another highlight of her job.

“Some volunteers and board members have been with us since the beginning,” she said, “and several even take vacation to come and help out.”

Also in conjunction with this year’s fundraiser, Waggener will roll out a website called www.cancernwa.org, intended as a one-stop resource for cancer patients, caregivers, service providers and others needing or offering help.

“We’re able to bring together all the various resources on one site,” Waggener said. It will be easy to self-navigate so people can find what they need, even from their smartphones.

Her office in the Hope Cancer Resources building helps with that mission of collaboration, she said, because she can consult with HCR’s team of professionals such as oncology social workers and health education specialists.

Waggener, who has two daughters and coached youth volleyball for many years, said she’s taking a little time off for herself this year now that she’s an “empty nester.”

But that hardly means becoming a couch potato. Instead, she’s using this time to get in better physical condition — eating better and taking exercise classes at the Walton Life Fitness Center.

“I have committed this year to being healthier myself,” Waggener said. Some board terms had expired, she said, and it just seemed like the right time.

This dedicated volunteer will likely have a hard time sticking to her resolve, though, as she’s already reeling off a list of upcoming events she’ll be supporting.