Palos Heights woman takes helm at Komen affiliate
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org March 17, 2013 8:29PM
Rita Forden, of Palos Heights, was recently named chief executive officer of the Chicago affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She previously was with the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:03AM
Colorful alphabet letters are stuck to the edges of a dry-erase board in Rita Forden’s office, each representing the first letter of the first name of family members and friends who’ve either managed to beat cancer or lost their battle to the disease.
“Everyone on here is alive in my heart,” Forden, a Palos Heights resident, said, noting the display “reminds me of their spirit.”
Newly appointed as chief executive of the Chicago-region affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Forden comes to the nonprofit group after having spent nine years as vice president of development for the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society, heading up fundraising efforts. At Komen, which raises funds for breast cancer education and prevention, Forden will work to diversify funding sources for the local Komen affiliate.
Established in 1997, the Chicago-region affiliate will hold its 16th annual Race for the Cure on Mother’s Day, which is one of Komen’s signature fundraising events along with the three-day walk.
While Forden said the race is “the lifeblood of this organization, so we want to care for and protect that asset,” the organization “is heavily reliant on walk and race income” and needs to explore other sources, such as additional corporate sponsorships or significant financial gifts from large companies, Forden said.
“We have to look to diversify our fundraising” efforts, she said. “We have to start looking at ways to increase our revenue stream.”
Forden said the nonprofit agency last year saw a dip in fundraising revenue but that Komen was in the same boat as similar organizations in the health sector.
According to the group, 75 percent of net proceeds stay in the Chicago region, funding breast cancer education, screening and treatment efforts. Last year, more than $1.5 million was distributed to community organizations in the metropolitan area.
“The impact we are making in our local communities translates into saving lives,” Forden said. “What’s raised here stays here.”
Forden grew up in Hazel Crest and graduated a year early from Thornwood High School in South Holland. She studied marketing and finance at Loyola University, with an eye toward ultimately getting her law degree then landing a comfortable job in corporate America.
Instead, after college, she was hired as a fundraiser by the Glenwood School for Boys, then worked at a domestic violence shelter on Chicago’s South Side. Forden spent a decade in a fundraising capacity with the United Way before joining the American Cancer Society.
She left ACS in November, but Forden said “I knew I wanted to be in the cancer fight.” She joined Komen on Feb. 18.
While she initially saw herself headed on a completely different career path, Forden said she “let my heart lead me.
“I never regretted being part of the not-for-profit landscape,” she said.