Dianne Fonseca admits that she is competitive, but with no one more than herself. Over the past decade, as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society (ACS), she has upped the ante each year, coordinating bigger events and soliciting more donations.
More than $100,000 later, that competitive nature has earned Fonseca the title of top fundraiser in the state and 17th in the nation last year.
“I was a schoolteacher so I’m very resourceful and I’m competitive,” she said. “It’s getting to be a full-time job, but it’s my passion. It makes me feel very satisfied, very accomplished, and very proud, too.”
A resident of Greenville, Fonseca is driven in part by competition and in part by her personal experiences. She is a 14-year cancer survivor. Two years after her diagnosis, with a clean bill of health, she began volunteering for Reach to Recovery, a support program that pairs survivors with breast cancer patients undergoing treatment. A few years after that, she switched over to another ACS program, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. To date, her team, Keeping the Pace with Dianne, has raised nearly $110,000. Since 2005, she has been considered a Pacesetter, a group of American Cancer Society supporters who are able to raise $2,500 or more in any given year. Last year alone, Fonseca collected close to $26,000.
“Dianne is an amazing person and an incredible fundraiser. She devotes so much time to fundraising for Making Strides, and her motto is that she will ask anyone for anything. She is not afraid to ask because it's for a good cause and so many people are affected by breast cancer,” said Megan Anderson,” the community executive for development at the American Cancer Society.
So many people are affected, Fonseca said, that she finds most are willing to support the cause.
“Unfortunately, you meet more and more people who are affected by cancer. In the old days, we kept that in the closet, so to speak. I’m very comfortable saying I’m a survivor,” she said.
Fonseca collects significant donations online, but much of her success can be attributed to successful events each year. Two years ago, she hosted a golf tournament. Last year, Hats for Hope, a tea party and fashion show, attracted 230 people.
“I’ve tried to plan events where people can have fun,” she said. “It seems to just blossom every year.”
This year, she has planned From Head to Toe, an evening of dinner and entertainment on June 20 at Kirkbrae Country Club. The featured speaker for the event is Tina Sloan, former actress of the soap opera, “Guiding Light.” Sloan is also the author of “Changing Shoes,” a book about women’s life experiences, relating those stories back to the types of shoes they wear. Every guest on June 20 will get a signed copy of Sloan’s book.
“I always feel that you need to branch out. That’s one of my goals when I have these events, is to attract new people and more people,” Fonseca said.
Anderson has several times asked Fonseca to share ideas with other fundraisers because of her success.
“She has also participated on New England-wide calls because she is so successful with her many fundraisers and she always has new ideas to keep it fresh to reach new donors and to keep her past ones engaged,” Anderson said. “I often share her ideas with other participants to encourage them and inspire them and to give them examples of how they can use their personal hobbies, interests and connections to raise money.”
Tickets to this year’s event are $50 per person, which includes dinner, a copy of the book, live entertainment from Eric French and many raffle prizes. A Johnson & Wales baking student is creating shoe-shaped cupcakes, and a photo booth has been donated for the night. Fonseca is hoping for at least 250 guests.
“We have tons of raffles. People have been very, very generous. For the most part, people are very giving,” Fonseca said.
Raffle prizes include a food and wine tasting for six people at Zooma, a $350 Adirondack chair, basketball camp at CCRI and soccer camp at Bryant, and tickets and a barbeque for six at McCoy Stadium, among others. Raffle tickets are 12 for $10 for the smaller prizes, or $10 each or three for $25 for the grand prizes.
A separate raffle, Sparkle for Strides, offers the chance to win four major prizes from Swarovski, including jewelry and crystal candlesticks. Every $10 ticket for Sparkle for Strides comes with a Fonseca cigar wrapper, inside which is a Swarovski bracelet.
A former Cranston educator, Fonseca continues to teach. She engages area middle and high schools, providing volunteer opportunities to students. In the past, Park View Middle School has raised more than $500 with a Pink Out. Last year, the East field hockey team played a charity game for Fonseca’s team.
“I’ve tried to involve the young people. I think it’s very good for them,” she said. “That’s my goal with the young people, not only to raise money, but also to raise awareness.”
This time around, she reached out to Cranston High School East, where she taught foreign language for 33 years. Current art teachers Marty Russell and Anna Ferenc jumped on board, and this week, their sculpture students were busy decorating donated shoes that will have flowers added to them and be used as centerpieces. Russell says she is impressed with what the group has come up with.
“They just sat down and did it. By the end of that first period, they had these beautiful shoes,” she said.
Fonseca has also garnered much support from her family. Her husband Tony and her two sons, Tony and Vincent, have helped plan fundraisers, along with her daughters-in-law Jen and Brenda. For her 60th birthday, her children reached out to friends and family without her knowledge and raised $8,000 in her name, signing Fonseca and her husband up for the 60-mile Susan G. Komen 3-Day, another fundraising event for breast cancer research and treatment.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” she said. “They’re all very supportive of me.”
That support keeps Fonseca going, and she says she has no plans of slowing down – or losing her spot as the state’s top fundraiser.
“I’ll do it for as long as I can,” she said. “You just want to do more and more every year, if you can.”
From Head to Toe begins at 6 p.m. Anyone interested in purchasing a ticket is encouraged to do so by June 12. Contact Fonseca at firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase a ticket or make a donation.