Connecting with inspirational role models is one of the joys of traveling on my journey with Breast Cancer MyStory. Today’s blog captures the conversation I had with Jonny Imerman, Founder of Imerman Angels in Chicago. Jonny was diagnosed with “non-seminoma” (many different types of cancers) testicular cancer at the young age of 26. Going through diagnosis and treatment, Jonny became painfully aware that nobody with his disease “looked” like him. Because Jonny’s circle of support was strong and present, he wandered around the hospital with an IV pole while getting his chemotherapy and witnessed many people going through treatment alone. Jonny being Jonny, he thought that wasn’t right and set out on a personal mission to connect with those going through cancer who needed a survivor as a mentor and role model. He thought, “What if every cancer fighter could talk to a cancer survivor who not only had beaten the same type of cancer, but who also was the same age and gender as the fighter?” This thinking became the foundation of the future Imerman Angels non-profit.
Through his early gestures of kindness and interaction, Jonny quickly learned how powerful the survivor voice was to someone going through cancer. That’s when the thought struck him that he could mentor one on one, and believed there was a scalable model behind his actions. Lining up people with cancer and a mentor survivor became a personal matching quest for him starting in 2005. By 2006 the part-time passion became all-consuming. Jonny left his full time job and officially started Imerman Angels. In short order, the matching task became bigger and more complex; he realized he needed help and hired his first employee the summer of 2006. Today, Imerman’s Angels has a full time staff of eight employees, six of whom are survivors.
No longer does Jonny do the match making in his head or on his laptop – the organization now uses SalesForce.com to maintain information and assist with their matches. Through gradual growth over the past seven years, Jonny has lead with his heart and believed in his mission of one to one matching. His organization has focused on three areas to spread the word and make connections: 1) hospitals 2) cancer partner agencies 3) pounding the pavement. Currently Imerman makes 62-100 family matches per week and over 1,900 in 2012. Each match costs $350 and the organization connects people with hundreds of types of cancers from around the world.
How Does Mentor Angel Matching Work? Cancer survivors are encouraged to apply to be an Imerman Mentor Angel. According to their website, “These 1–on–1 relationships inspire hope and offer the chance to ask personal questions and receive support from someone who is uniquely familiar with the experience. Mentor Angels can lend support and empathy while helping cancer fighters and caregivers navigate the system, determine their options and create their own support systems.”
Interested in being an angel mentor? Simply apply at http://www.imermanangels.org or phone (877) 274-5529. After you fill out the application, someone from Imerman contacts you to talk through what being a mentor angel is all about to make sure you are a good fit for the program. Once you are approved, you’ll wait until a cancer patient who “looks” like you reaches out for support. Your profile at Imerman and a match with a cancer patient triggers a phone call to you, the angel, to get the ball rolling. If you are a cancer patient looking for support, simply visit the same website or call and they’ll work on getting you a match right away. The service is free for anyone in the world. Also remember if you are a caregiver, there are matches for you as well! Phone lines are open and Jonny wants everyone who seeks help to reach out as support is waiting.
So is Jonny still a mentor angel? Absolutely! Even with his Type A busy schedule, he makes the time to mentor others. He also serves on or has been part of over 20 boards or committees. Jonny feels that if each non-profit could focus on their niche and do the best they can in that arena and then cross-reference with other non-profits, we could all better serve those that need us. When I asked him about what he takes away from these experiences serving on other boards, Jonny mentioned the challenges that every board faces. “Getting everyone on the same page and focusing on the mission is challenging.” He feels fortunate that at Imerman Angels his board is all on the same page, is passionate about their program, and is focused on their one to one service.
What makes Jonny run? The many emails, texts, phone calls and letters from cancer patients who loved their matches fuels the soul of Jonny Imerman. Also a keen laser vision for his organization and focus on his mission and desire to reach more people and be better at what they do. I asked him if he were granted one big wish for his organization, what would it be? He answered without hesitation, “impact.” Jonny feels the more people they can reach, the more they can impact.
After my questions were complete, Jonny asked me if I knew about their caregiver matching. I had completely forgotten! We proceeded to have a great conversation about Imerman Angels caregiver 1:1 matching. As I’m acutely aware of the important and exhausting role of a caregiver, much support is needed and I’m so glad to see Imerman filling a void. So if you are a caregiver for someone with cancer and are reading this, give Imerman Angels a call today and get matched up with someone who has walked your path and can give you insights and a soft shoulder.
As we parted from his new, partially moved-in office, Jonny gave me another hug and parting words, “Be Well.” Yes, great words to live by, so be well Jonny and continue to inspire and impact all those you touch.