The YWCA St. Joseph is shutting down its breast cancer program.

EncorePlus served to educate women and the community at large about breast cancer. Originally founded in 1994 with the help of a grant from cosmetics company Avon and later Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation funds, the program first focused on cervical and breast cancers.

“In the mid-2000s, there was a surge in interest and need for breast cancer (education), so we dropped the cervical cancer as part of the program,” Family Resources Director Ellen Kisker said.

Now, the YWCA is ending the program. The Susan G. Komen and Avon funding are no longer available, leaving only one choice, according to YWCA CEO Tammy Killin.

“Ellen (Kisker) and her team have been looking for other funding sources, and we just can’t find that,” Killin said. “As a result, we had to make a very tough decision and close our programming.”

In addition to providing education and supporting women affected by breast cancer, EncorePlus held several annual events throughout breast cancer awareness month October.

The Bling a Bra contest encouraged individuals and organizations to decorate bras. In February of each year, the bras were auctioned off during the Bras for a Cause fashion show. The Pink Tea Luncheon honored women and men fighting breast cancer and those who beat it. The Celebration Rosa was an event specifically for the Hispanic community, in addition to other EncorePlus services aimed at Spanish-speaking women.

Former EncorePlus bilingual educator and advocate Sofia Giorgi helped many women navigate health services available to them.

“There’s three things you like to do in your language: count, pray and go to the doctor,” Giorgi said. “It’s really tough when you go to the doctor and you cannot communicate. So that was a very important part of the program and it was wonderful.”

EncorePlus officially shut down at the beginning of September, but the YWCA will host one last Pink Tea Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at 304 N. Eighth St.

The Celebration Rosa will continue, although in a different form. Women from the community will organize the event and provide everything needed for the celebration while the YWCA provides a space for the event on Thursday, Oct. 24.

There also has been interest from volunteers to keep some of the other events going. Kisker said many volunteers were touched by breast cancer in one form or another and want to continue providing support to those who need it.

“Yes, we have shut the program down, but we have wonderful people in place that are going to reach out and look for those who might need some comfort,” Kisker said.

Killin has held her position as YWCA CEO for less than a year, and she said the decision to shut down the program was difficult, although not surprising. Lack of funding and the possibility of ending the program became apparent in July 2018, months before Killin officially took over.

“We’ve kind of been dragging our feet a bit, just trying to look at other ways that we can continue the program,” she said. “However, with this decision, we did come to terms with it. There are other providers doing this. It’s not as if when we close, all the efforts stop.”

For questions about breast cancer and health, Killin recommends contacting your health care provider, the Social Welfare Board, Mosaic Life Care or Northwest Health Services.

Jessica Kopp can be reached at or you can follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp