how a “bowling against breast cancer” idea turned into contributions totaling $600,000 to support staten island health projects
by jessica jones-gorman • photos © amessé photography
On more than a couple of occasions, Frank Wilkinson has been caught pink-handed. Armed with boxes of lawn signs and a carful of fluorescent pink flamingos, the owner of Rab’s Country Lanes has been nabbed by such borough notables as Richard Nicotra and Jon Salmon as he politely vandalized their properties with flocks of the obnoxiously adorable bird. Still, as Wilkinson points out, it was all for a good cause.
“It was a cute way of hounding people for a check,” Wilkinson said with a laugh. “Year after year, we seek donations for our Bowling for Breast Cancer fundraiser, and flocking local businesses with these birds not only helped us do that, it helped create a buzz, too. Any kind of awareness that we can help stir up is a good thing when battling something as big as breast cancer.”
The idea, which involves a crew of Rab’s employees splashing several local businesses with plastic pink lawn ornaments, was the brainchild of Nazareth Laursen, a longtime employee of Rab’s and a member of Wilkinson’s extended work family.
“Naz found out that a friend had breast cancer, and her response was, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ But then, that’s just the type of person she is she’s always looking for a way to help,” Wilkinson said. “She heard of a story of someone raising money by flocking people’s lawns with these pink flamingos. Next thing I know I’m on Amazon, ordering them in sets of two-hundred.”
The flamingos help promote Rab’s annual Bowling Against Breast Cancer bowl-a-thon, which has raised more than $600,000 for Staten Island Breast Health Projects over the past 17 years. After gaining some “Tag, you’re it!” momentum from local businesses, the flamingo stunt alone raised $11,000 last year in just about a month’s time. “It was fun, and people responded really well to it,” Wilkinson said, adding that this is just one of the many fund-raising initiatives he’s been supporting for decades with the Rab Wilkinson Foundation.
“Our business is to provide an outlet for people to get away from their everyday life,” he explained. “We supply an environment where people come to enjoy themselves, knock down a couple of pins and some drinks, and escape their daily stresses. But we couldn’t do what we do without the community that surrounds us. It was instilled in me by my father and my grandfather before him to always take care of those who take care of you.”
That’s why Wilkinson forged a relationship with Staten Island University Hospital, helping to fund local breast health projects with the proceeds from the annual bowl-a-thon, including the Florina Rusi Marke Comprehensive Breast Center.
“Our relationship started flourishing with the hospital because we have so many friends and clients who work there,” Wilkinson said. “SIUH is our community hospital anyone who’s ill or has a family member who’s ill walks through those doors to seek care. So to support an organization that is such a major part of the borough’s infrastructure is just common sense.”
After raising money for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides program, Wilkinson chose to continue supporting the breast cancer cause.
“Five years ago, we made a contribution to SIUH’s Comprehensive Breast Center as plans for that initiative were just getting off the ground,” he said. “And in an effort to continue to grow this partnership, we made a $100,000 commitment to the Breast Health Navigation Program last year.”
Now in its third year of operation, SIUH’s BHNP works to improve access to screenings, treatment, and care in high-risk areas of Staten Island’s North Shore one of the borough’s most medically underserved areas. The program focuses its activities on reaching vulnerable populations those affected by late-stage diagnosis and disproportionately high breast cancer mortality rates through outreach and educational events.
“When patients do have to enter the doors of the Comprehensive Breast Center for treatment, or when they do have to make use of the hospital’s Breast Health Navigation Program, they can do it knowing they have the support of fellow Staten Islanders who have raised this money for them,” Wilkinson said. “It’s this type of community outreach that the Rab’s business was built upon.”
Rab’s Country Lanes, which will be celebrating its 25th year this coming February, was the lifelong vision of Wilkinson’s father, Rab.
“He started as a pin boy and always dreamed of building his own business,” he said. “He sold sporting equipment at pro shops in Westerleigh and Dongan Hills before landing in Grant City on Lincoln Avenue, where he opened Rab’s Pro Shop. He took ownership of Bowling on the Green in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and when the opportunity came up to buy Country Lanes, he took it.”
Wilkinson went on to describe growing up in the bowling business: Living in an apartment that was upstairs from the family’s Pro Shop on Lincoln Avenue, both he and his brothers, Thomas and Anthony, were hardly strangers to the establishment their father worked so hard to create.
“I guess you could say we were born with bowling balls in our hands,” he laughed. “And as teenagers, we started taking on an active role, helping dad clean up, running youth tournaments, or just working somewhere in the center.”
After Wilkinson’s father was diag – nosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2005, he was forced to do much of his work from home. So Wilkinson, who had just graduated from high school, started taking on a more active role.
“My mother, Dee, ran the business with him for decades. I stepped in to help her,” he said. “When my father passed away in 2008, I took on the full-time job of operating things with her.”
That full-time position included continuing his father’s charitable work.
“Every community comes together in times of crisis, but Staten Islanders are exceptionally giving,” he concluded. “We have half a million residents here which is a lot but it never ceases to amaze me how small this borough seems. Residents continually put each other first and take care of those who are less fortunate. They make my job of fundraising easy, and because of this community, we are able to continually give back.”
Rab’s Country Lanes
1600 Hylan Boulevard / 718.979.1600
Staten Island, N.Y. – For over 15 years, Rab’s Country Lanes has been committed to striking out breast cancer as a partner of Staten Island University Hospital. In that time, they have raised over $560,000, benefitting local breast health projects including the Florina Rusi-Marke Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital and the Making Strides Campaign of the American Cancer Society. This Staten Island grown business has continued to elevate its community efforts by establishing the Rab Wilkinson Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening and improving the quality of life in our community now and for future generations.
In conjunction with these efforts, Staten Island University Hospital is pleased to announce it has received a $100,000 grant from the Rab Wilkinson Foundation. These funds will support the Breast Health Navigation Program (BHNP), which works to reduce breast cancer mortality rates and addresses some of the most pressing breast health needs on Staten Island.
Now in its third year of operation, the BHNP works to improve access to breast screenings (mammograms), treatment, and care, in high-risk areas of Staten Island’s North Shore – one of the borough’s most medically underserved areas. The program focuses its activities on reaching vulnerable populations that suffer from late stage diagnosis and disproportionately high breast cancer mortality rates, through outreach and educational events. These efforts raise awareness of breast health and early detection, while successfully providing access to free screening.
Each patient is supported by a bilingual Breast Health Outreach Navigator (Navigator) throughout the entire continuum of care, addressing the many barriers often experienced throughout the process. These barriers include financial distresses, logistical concerns (such as booking appointments, finding transportation, or securing child care), and other issues that complicate attending to one’s health. The Navigator provides much-needed support to each patient while providing: direct links to care, financial assistance, counseling, help navigating the complex healthcare landscape, and appointment reminders and follow-up.
“Staten Island has the highest Breast Cancer mortality rates in all the five boroughs,” says Susana Abreu, Staten Island University Hospital’s Breast Health Outreach Navigator. “[Our] goal is to decrease breast cancer morbidity and mortality rates within these identified high-risk groups.”
In three years, the BHNP has educated more than 6,000 people on breast health awareness, screened 731 women, and diagnosed 8 breast cancers – including 4 in this year alone.
In continuation with the program’s efforts, The Mount Sinai Mobile Mammography Van –supported with funds from the State of New York – will be appearing on October 14th at Rab’s Country Lanes (1600 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10305) from 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM. This event will serve to provide breast cancer screening services for women age 40 and above who have not had a mammogram in the past year and show no signs or symptoms of the disease. Insured, underinsured, or uninsured are all welcome! To pre-register, please contact Brittney Henry at 212-824-7081.
Staten Island University Hospital is proud to continue its partnership with Rab’s Country Lanes and the Rab Wilkinson Foundation. With their support and investment, the Breast Health Navigation Program at Staten Island University Hospital will empower women in our community and provide access to life-saving care.
By Jan Somma-Hammel
Staten Island Advance | silive.com
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The Hilton Garden Inn, Bloomfield, has been flocked with pink flamingos!
The plastic pink lawn ornaments are part of a fundraising effort to raise breast cancer awareness.
The Rab Wilkinson Foundation is seeking donations for Rab's Country Lanes 16th annual Bowling Against Breast Cancer. And what better way to find donors than by surprising them with flamingos?
"We started our campaign this past week, flocking our friends," said Frank Wilkinson, of the the Rab Wilkinson Foundation, which is dedicated to strengthening and improving the quality of life on Staten Island.
Here's how this year's campaign, which runs through the end of October, works.
If you discover a dozen or so plastic flamingos in your yard -- "you've been flocked," meaning you are being encouraged to make a donation to the Bowling Against Breast Cancer event. You then get to choose the next place to "flock" for a donation -- inundating the next yard with pink flamingos.
In the last 15 years, with various fundraisers, the Wilkinson Foundation has raised over $570,000 to fight against breast cancer.
Watch the above video to learn more about flamingos flocking to raise money for an important cause!