Komen Cancels Charity Races In Several Cities

One of the foremost breast cancer charities, the Susan G. Komen foundation, has canceled important fundraising walks in Washington, D.C., and other major cities next year.

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Next year, there will be fewer people flooding major cities in pink shirts and comfortable walking shoes. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has decided to cancel its three-day charity walks in seven out of 14 cities. The group says participation has been decreasing.

And as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, the charity is still struggling to recover from last year's controversial decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Susan G. Komen's decision to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood's breast cancer work was reversed within days. But a year and half later, the charity is still feeling the effects. Komen yesterday announced that it's ending its three-day walks next year in Arizona, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

It cited participation down 37 percent over the past four years, and it blamed economic uncertainty. No one from the national organization would talk for the record. But Sean Shacklett, executive director of Komen's Northeast Ohio affiliate, agrees that the economy has been a big problem.

SEAN SHACKLETT: And that's strictly what is, it's dollars and cents coming from the tough times that we've had over the last four or five years.

FESSLER: Shacklett points out that those who participate in these walks have to raise at least $2,300, a high bar for many to reach. Shacklett says he's disappointed that the Cleveland three-day has been canceled. But he says the 5k race for the cure events that his and other affiliates hold each year will go ahead as planned.

SHACKLETT: For us, it's really, really key to continue to deliver that message that we're still here, we're not going anywhere. Komen is deeply entrenched within Northeast Ohio.

FESSLER: In fact, Shacklett hopes that Ohioans, who would have participated in next year's three-day walk, will now turn their energies to the local race. But Komen fundraising events across the country have suffered over the past year because of donor outrage over the Planned Parenthood decision. Komen founder Nancy Brinker even announced last August that she would step down as CEO once a successor was found to help quell the controversy. But Eve Ellis, a former board member of the New York affiliate, notes that Brinker is still on the job and says she needs to leave.

EVE ELLIS: So that then the organization could say we are different people, and we did not make that bad decision about defunding Planned Parenthood. But as long as they have board members who made that decision and Nancy Brinker who made that decision, they can't get us back.

FESSLER: Still, Komen says it plans to go ahead with all of this year's scheduled three-day walks. It's also clear that the charity retains a large, devoted following for its efforts to fight and treat breast cancer.

Diana Parrish, executive director of the Northwest North Carolina affiliate, says their local fundraising is going well.

It's been tough. But I think we all learned a valuable lesson in what we need to do, to promote who we are and get people to understand what is our mission.

Even if that sometimes means distancing themselves from the national leaders. Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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