NUTLEY, NJ — The Nutley Thriving Survivors Inc. has been a guiding light for women battling breast cancer for many years, and now, the group is building a memorial garden to honor the many brave women who have lost their battle with the disease.
The garden will be constructed along Vincent Place in Nutley, with Essex County giving the group its blessing to use the unused land for the garden.
Funding for the project comes from donations sent to the group — in the name of those who have lost their battle with breast cancer — as well as an allotment from the group’s treasury.
Since 2003, the group has supported women who live or work in Nutley and beyond, providing food certificates and gift cards to women undergoing treatment, offering transportation, paying for mammograms and other medical services for those without insurance, providing financial assistance with bills, and offering emotional support.
Michele Fleitell, president of Nutley Thriving Survivors, said that she got involved with the group in 2003 when then-commissioner, Joanne Cocchiola, asked her to spearhead an event for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Fleitell told the Nutley Journal in a Feb. 10 email. “We got together several women who had breast cancer and a few supporters and created a committee. We decided we wanted to celebrate courageous women who live or work in Nutley and emphasize that they are thriving, not just surviving. We decided to have a walk and a brunch.”
Fleitell said that the first walk was on a Saturday morning through the beautiful Nutley parks, with more than 300 walkers taking part.
“We dedicated a cherry blossom tree in front of the Nutley Department of Public Affairs and it is still there,” Fleitell said.
Since then, said Fleitell, the walk has evolved into an evening event with candles and luminaria that line Franklin Avenue to honor, or in memory of, those who have battled breast cancer. Walkers are asked for a freewill donation and the funds collected go toward programs that support survivors who live or work in Nutley.
“It is an evening of fun, love and camaraderie that is still very well- attended and an enjoyable evening,” she said.
Breast cancer survivors who live or work in Nutley are invited to the brunch free of charge and they may also bring a guest, also admitted free of charge. There are other traditions at the brunch.
“There is always an inspirational guest speaker and an uplifting program,” Fleitell said.
According to Fleitell, the group’s events are supported by their major fund-raiser, a golf outing in May of each year, held at Hendrick’s Field in Belleville. The annual outing, which has become very popular, is attended by both men and women.
Fleitell said that the idea of the garden was generated by a desire to honor those lost to cancer. “Over the 14 years of our existence, we have lost a number of people,” she said. “In order to honor them, we decided to build a memorial garden. It started out to be a pink tulip garden, but has grown into something more.”
The garden, which will be 15 by 20 feet in size and located adjacent to Vincent Methodist Church, will be built and maintained by Landscape Techniques of Nutley. The garden will be paid for by donations made in memory of a deceased loved one, as well as other donations.
According to Fleitell, construction of the garden will begin as soon as the weather turns milder, and that she hopes for a dedication of the garden in early April.
“It will be called the Nutley Thriving Survivors, Inc. Memorial Garden,” Fleitell said. “There will be bricks around the ribbon formation, which may be engraved with a loved one’s name. Those bricks will be sold for $100 each to help pay for the project.”
Fleitell said that the idea of the garden was welcomed.
“The reaction to the garden has been great,” she said. “It was announced at our brunch last fall and was very well-received. When ready, the entire community will be welcome to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony. We hope to be around for many years aiding, advising and supporting women who live or work in Nutley who battle breast cancer.”
Donations to the garden would be greatly appreciated and can be sent to Nutley Thriving Survivors Inc., PO Box 749, Nutley, NJ 07110. For additional information on Nutley Thriving Survivors Inc. visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Nutley-Thriving-Survivors-Inc-109023732477794.