One Step at a Time

Cancer changes everything. Nick Arquette learned this reality at the age of ten when his mother, Sally, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancer changes everything. Nick Arquette learned this reality at the age of ten when his mother, Sally, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sent to live with his father so his mother could focus on fighting her cancer battle, one she sadly lost when Nick was 16, the teenager saw his grades and extracurricular activities slip as he grieved.

“Kids will choose anything that feels like family — good or bad — when they experience the grief of losing a parent,” says Nick. “I was lucky that I chose good people but many children don’t and instead throw themselves into drugs, alcohol and other high-risk behaviors.”

As a young adult in the midst of “intense soul searching,” Nick enrolled in a self-growth class, one that asked him to create a project that could positively impact the community. That project became Walk With Sally, a program that provides mentorship and support to kids with a parent or sibling living with cancer.

“I knew the name Walk With Sally was going to be perfect from the very beginning,” he says. “To me it signified, and still does, the spirit of all parents who are trying to find the balance between survival and parenting. From the outset, Walk With Sally was going to be the solution for these brave parents. We would step in the gap to be there for these kids in a time when their parents can’t be.”

The Manhattan Beach-based program launched in 2004 with the support of friends, including Pamela Penson, Executive Director and President. “I did not need to be convinced of the value,” she remembers. “It was as obvious as sunshine. We marched into town with happy faces and an unstoppable determination to awaken the hearts of the community-at-large.”

According to Pamela, the mentoring program is the “cornerstone” of Walk With Sally. “The goal is to match two individuals from different backgrounds and ages, creating a meaningful mentoring ‘Friendship,’” she says. “On the surface, both individuals appear to look different, but in their hearts, they share a life-altering, common life experience of living or losing a parent to cancer. This shared experience is what makes the ‘Walk With Sally Friendship’ distinctive and very special.”

Pamela notes that the South Bay community has been instrumental in Walk With Sally’s growth since its genesis.

“From individual volunteers, local schools to corporate sponsors, everyone has embraced Walk With Sally as their personal cause and contributed towards driving more and more kids to the mentoring program,” she says. “Despite the economic hardship, our kids still face feelings of hopelessness, and at times, anxiety. Their feelings have not disappeared, even though the financial market collapsed and unemployment has reached a record high. The kids still need us.”

Walk With Sally’s big event, one that has quickly become a mainstay of the greater Los Angeles charitable events calendar, is White Light White Night. Hosted by South Bay BMW on July 11, this year’s event raised upwards of $100,000 in funds to be used in expanding the mentorship program. Attended by more than 700 supporters, the crowd enjoyed delicious food from local restaurants and rocked out to an electrifying performance by Gavin Rossdale.

Following the success of this year’s event, Walk With Sally plans to expand its footprint in the greater L.A. area, eventually establishing mentor relationships for children outside the South Bay and creating a model that can be implemented in cities throughout the country. It is estimated that it takes about $1,000 of funding per child to sponsor them through the Walk With Sally program for a year.
Arquette reflects, “For many of our kids, their mentors are the only consistent adult role models that they have. As the cancer takes its toll on the family, the kids are forced to face the pain of moving households, entering foster care and even the devastating death of a loved one. If we can continue to brighten the life of one child at a time, then our hard work is worth it.”

To find out about how to become a Walk With Sally mentor or benefactor, visit them at walkwithsally.org.

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