Once Anisa Warren lost her mother to breast cancer, life was never the same for the grief-stricken 5-year-old. “Birthdays were not even fun anymore, and I had to learn how to grow up without a mother,” Warren states. With a 12% breast cancer rate in the U.S. and a 1 in 8 chance of women developing breast cancer (and 1 in 883 for men), Warren was not alone. Even if she didn’t realize it then, her grief as a child impacted by a parent’s breast cancer diagnosis was, unfortunately, a shared experience that many children endure.
Years later, Warren was 21 and serving her second tour in Iraq with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, when she says her mother appeared to her in a vivid mirage, sending a clear message to her in the desert. At that moment, “I knew I was going to exit the military and serve in another way,” Warren says today. Upon her return to the States, I Will Survive, Inc. was born “to help families fight breast cancer so they didn’t have to fight alone. I didn’t want any more children to grow up without their mother due to this horrible disease.”
Warren witnessed first-hand the effect that a parent’s illness has on an entire family. “Our greatest impact is not just helping the families survive in this fight, but to win the small battles in between,” explains Warren, who now serves as executive director of I Will Survive, Inc. Her team helps keep families off the streets and prevent evictions while maintaining a nutritional food supply in the home. Additionally, when a single parent is ill, cancer takes an exorbitant toll on the children, especially if the parent is laid off in the wake of the illness. Therefore, I Will Survive, Inc. helps families maintain their quality of life, such as keeping their lights on, maintaining power and utilities for the family when finances are impacted.
Over the past decade, I Will Survive, Inc. has raised over $2 million in revenue to support its programs and has donated nearly a quarter-million dollars’ worth of food to families impacted by breast cancer, according to their website. Additionally, the organization has provided more than $760,000 in rental assistance, utility bills, and transportation assistance, and maintains a 100% success rate of preventing families from being evicted from their homes.
The Pandemic Pivot
Like many nonprofit organizations, the global pandemic brought major change for 2020. The organization survived by finding new ways to continue serving the community while maintaining safe protocols and operating procedures. They closed their facility in May of 2020 to make the transition to a virtual mode of operation. “We didn’t know if we would make it to the end of the year,” Warren says. “We saw a heavy decline in donations, grant funding, and sponsors from small businesses.”
While everyone was suffering during the pandemic, Warren remained focused on the disadvantaged families struggling to make ends meet, especially with the added stress and strain of virtual online schooling and maintaining internet access for families with school-age children. “How will [these families] keep a roof over their heads?” she wondered, as the pandemic gridlocked the nation with lockdowns and paralyzed the economy with uncertainty. “Thank God for a hold on evictions and disconnections on utilities,” which saved many families from being displaced during 2020, Warren says.
One of the ancillary services I Will Survive, Inc. provides is transportation and accompaniment to physician appointments. However, the pandemic ended that service due to social distancing and postponement of most medical visits, other than COVID patients. The organization pivoted yet again and started providing PPE to families in need, to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. “We mailed and delivered care packages with contactless door deliveries. We held virtual workshops and hosted virtual internships for students from University of Georgia, Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Kennesaw State University,” Warren states.
Once courts opened back up, eviction rates skyrocketed again, as did utility disconnections. “We were flooded with applications from families fighting breast cancer. We could not shut down – they needed our help!” Warren and her team immediately sprang into action to raise more funds to help maintain their 100% success rate on preventing evictions.
Despite the challenges, I Will Survive Inc. lives up to its name and continues to survive and thrive. Warren has big goals and ideas for the future of the organization, including growing the footprint, expanding their reach, and increasing revenue by at least 20% to help fund a new virtual Home Ownership Sustainability program, designed to “reduce the generational and situational poverty cycle in disadvantaged communities.”
Another significant goal is to decrease breast cancer deaths by 10% in Fulton and Dekalb counties, as well as maintain a 100% turnout rate for voting in local and national elections among the families they serve. Warren also plans to hire five new staff members over the next two years. “Our greatest needs are funding, human resources, and skill-based volunteers,” Warren states.
Without her supporters, donors, and sponsors throughout metro Atlanta, I Will Survive, Inc. may not have survived the pandemic. Warren expressed heartfelt gratitude for the nonprofit’s partners and local small businesses which have enabled them to serve the community over the past decade. These include The Gathering Spot, Regal Nissan, Ford, Entercom, Cool Dads Rock, Cycle Bar of Buckhead, Jack and Jill Foundation (Stone Mountain chapter), and Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks, who adopted families this year.
“Thank you, Atlanta, for helping us make it to ten years; we hope you will support us through these next ten years, and please let this be a reminder to not only do your monthly self-breast exams, annual clinical exams, and mammograms… but please remind someone you love, as well!” Warren concludes.