The start of an organization
In April of 1997, Robert Allen Doles, III, Esq. approached his Aunt Denise to encouraged her to start an organization that with her leadership would enable other women and men to live vigorously through the power of breast health education.
It had been only a few months after Robert had passed the bar and could officially start his law practice when he put his dreams on hold to bring another dream to fruition. In accordance with many people, Robert has always quietly admired the fire in his Aunt Denise’s eyes. Her passion for living and enjoying every second of it has always been dominant in her character. After she survived her bout with breast cancer, her fire became a blaze as her passion for living was magnified.
Denise Roberts was born a leader, which was exemplified in everything she didfrom the moment she moved out of her mother’s house at the tender age of 17 to the day she opened her own store that showcased her interior design talent. For this, Robert was convinced that because she never allowed breast cancer to blow out this fire that dwelled inside of her, she could help other women and men who needed help in facing the adversity of this disease.
Robert witnessed so many people come into her store not only to shop, but also to talk to his aunt. Whether it was for advice or for a laugh, some customers would refuse to shop if she was not there. With this natural gift, she could support other survivors through conversation and comfort those who seek the best quality of life at the end of their journey.
Foremost, Denise felt overwhelmed by just the thought of such a huge responsibility. After all, she was doing fine with the life she was leading as the owner of a successful business, which still allowed time to spend with her family. Then there was the tremendous weight on her shoulders that the notion of having to go public with her very private emotional battle caused. Her initial thought was ‘no way’what in the world did she know about running a foundation?
Although Denise Roberts’ confidence acted as the fire that illuminated her personality, there were still some crevices within her heart where fear made an attempt to dwell. This was evident when she admitted, "I thought I would be too close to it (breast cancer). Maybe I would become too emotionally involved, and because of this I feared that I would not be able to relay my message clearly…”
It was nearing the end of another long day at Design By Denise, when Debbie Ingram, a friend and faithful customer, casually perused the new merchandise and shared funny stories about her children with Denise. When the last customer finally trickled out, Denise abruptly asked the question that had consumed her thoughts ever since her last conversation with her nephew. In response to the question of whether Denise should start a foundation, Debbie took her hand and prayed about this new endeavor. That night Debbie Ingram and Denise Roberts sat for countless hours brainstorming about this project, this dream, for it was a clear vision that had not yet been named or claimed.|
The vision was the essence of living. While most foundations at that time had begun "in the memory of" those who were deceased as a result of the disease, Denise Roberts exalted the mantra, "Breast cancer is not a death sentence." Together, Denise and Debbie decided to name the foundation after Denise as a reflection of her passion for living. Then Debbie Ingram coined the catchphrase, "From a mother to a daughter," as a way to also promote the essence of conversation. “The more we talk about this disease, the more we know and the less we fear,” says Ingram. Denise then told Debbie about her experiences with other African American based organizations that she went to for support when she was recovering from breast cancer, and how these organizations were depressing and somber. Then there were other organizations, which could not reach her intimately because not only did she not look like the people involved, but she also couldn’t relate to their philosophy of beginning to be aware of your body at the age of 40had she waited until then, she would not be alive.
Denise began to realize that there was a real need for an organization lead by her experience and vigor for living. The organization became known as The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation: Women and Men of Color Fighting Breast Cancer. At the end of that night, Denise Roberts had claimed the dream that her nephew envisioned her bring to life, and was empowered to say, “…because I have forced myself to become more educated about this disease, I am more powerful. And now, instead of being emotional about [surviving] it, I am passionate."
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A campaign for space
After a year of hard work and dedication, The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation (TDRBCF) became nationally recognized as a 501 C 3 non-profit organization, in April 1998. By the end of that year in December 1998, Denise Roberts closed her store, Designe By Denise, which she originally opened in response to her surviving breast cancer. She thrived for thirteen years as an entrepreneur out of her passion for living. But the day had come when she was called to serve a greater purpose. She gave up one dream to pursue another.
Meetings were held every day on the stairs of Denise’s home. There was a loft at the top of the stairs where her personal desk became the official office of TDRBCF. The stairs were the volunteers' seats and the baskets around the desk were the file cabinets. There was a one 24-hour hotline number that referred women and men to different clinics throughout Los Angeles County where they could go to get a mammogram.
By that time, her oldest son (Shane) was away at college and her daughter (Heaven) was a senior in high school. No stranger to working for her mother, Heaven got to work again, but this time it wasn’t forced. Denise’s family supported her dream to become a vital part of the breast cancer awareness cause. They encouraged her to use her boisterous voice as a tool in reaching and educating women and men of color about breast health and early cancer detection. Heaven became the youth coordinator, which made her responsible for gathering as many of her friends as possible to help spread the word about TDRBCF, by passing out fliers and influencing them to tell their parents to get involved. Denise gathered friends to be on her Board of Directors through which TDRBCF planned many fundraisers in hopes to raise enough money to be able to afford real office spacesomewhere that was larger than the stairs that lead to the loft at Denise’s house, yet still had the comfort of being at home. Denise called it "a campaign for space."
In April 1999 TDRBCF acknowledged its commencement with its inaugural Founder’s Day Celebration at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, California. At this sold-out event, Denise Roberts stood on stage along side Howard Hewitt, Anna Marie Horseford, Debbie and James Ingram, and asked the audience for space to work. Within months, Denise’s husband (Antoine Roberts, M.D.) noticed there was some abandoned space at one of the clinics he worked at in Fox Hills (then owned by Tenet). He then introduced Denise to the Chief Executive Officer of the Centinela Fox Hills Clinic, who happened to have been in the audience at the Founder’s Day celebration. He remembered Denise’s exuberance on stage and unfalteringly showed her how to go about acquiring the abandoned Urgent Care Center at the clinic, through the Tenet Healthcare Foundation.
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A home for the future
Imagine if you will anything you have worked diligently to achieve that is now tangible: your first car, a home, a promotion at work, an “A” on a test. So many emotions are brought forth with this sensation of completion: relief, exuberance, humility and most importantly gratitude. These and many other feelings of joy overwhelmed Denise Roberts’ emotions when office space at the Centinela Medical Center in Fox Hills was donated to The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation in January 2000.
From the back entrance of the clinic there was a door that led to a space. On the glass door there was a sign that read: The Denise Roberts Breast Cancer Foundation: Women and Men of Color Fighting Breast Cancer. Underneath the title, an illustration of a woman hugging her daughter was outlined by a heart. On the bottom of the sign were the words: "From a mother to a daughter/ son..." as well as the times the clinic is open to the public. As you walked into this space, there was a small lobby to your left and to the right of the door there was a very large, rounded oak reception desk, where the Foundation’s first receptionist welcomed and registered new patients. To the left of the waiting area is the mammogram machine room, where a technician came to work four days out of the week.
In February 2005, the clinic went under new management, leaving the Foundation with one office upstairs, away from the breast screening area and with only enough room for one intern to work efficiently.
In 2008 TDRBCF acquired space a the Freeman Medical Towers in Inglewood, which soon also went under new management.
In Q4 - 2009 TDRBCF was left homeless, but continues to diligently seek opportunities to help those in need of breast screening. Its toll-free 888 number has never been disconnected and thus TDRBCF stays connected to its mission to help uninsured or under-insured women be proactive about their breast health through early detection and education.
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