After an extensive search, the Cancer Hope Network Board of Trustees has named Cynthia Gutierrez Bernstein Executive Director for the organization. Her appointment follows the retirement of longtime director Wanda Diak last year.
Cynthia joined CHN in 2006 as a Patient Services Coordinator and has been the Director of Programs since 2008, overseeing the team that trains survivor volunteers and matches patients and caregivers facing cancer. She received her MSW from Rutgers School of Social Work in 2014.
The work is personal for Cynthia, whose father is a cancer survivor and her grandfather had a life of social service through nonprofits. "Believing in the power of being an agent of change through working at a social service organization is something that has been ingrained in my identity as early as I can recall."
She’s never forgotten the lessons she first learned as a Coordinator. “Being able to talk with people who were at their darkest moments and still were grateful, who took the time to thank me made an impact with me,” she recalls. “It’s so inspiring to talk with clients and see their perspective changing, to hear back from them later and know they’re in a better place. In my years at CHN, I’ve been privileged to get to know our incredible Support Volunteers and to work with other organizations that offer support to people facing cancer.”
Cynthia’s focus as Executive Director is simple – to build on the organization’s 32 years of service and provide support for more people impacted by cancer. “So often, we get calls from patients and caregivers who feel isolated and alone,” she says. “Their initial questions vary - they’re looking for financial aid, support groups, have questions about the treatments their doctor is recommending. But the underlying facts are similar – they’re searching for connection, for hope as they fight this vicious disease. Professionally led peer mentor programs like Cancer Hope Network are vital in helping people facing the mental health challenges cancer brings. We help them meet those challenges, provide that connection, give them to tools to find the hope they need, while at the same time holding up our volunteers.”
Beginning in 2015 with the organization’s Strategic Planning process, Cynthia and the Cancer Hope Network team have been improving the services we provide. “We’ve grown our ability to match clients in a more nuanced way. When we were founded, our matches were based almost exclusively on the diagnosis or treatment clients received,” she said. “Today, matches often still begin with a shared diagnosis, but we’re also connecting people to Support Volunteers who have life experiences and situations in common. That additional shared connection has proved extraordinarily meaningful. Surveys of our clients conducted by an outside research group show 96% are satisfied or very satisfied.”
She acknowledges that we don’t do this work alone. "I’m particularly proud of the partnerships and collaborations CHN has developed with other organizations,” Cynthia continues. “There is so much good work being done to help and support patients. Working with organizations like Cancer Support Community or the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, regional experts like Atlantic Health here in New Jersey and St. Charles in Bend or being an active member of the Volunteer Management in Cancer Care alliance gives us an opportunity to leverage resources for patients across the country.”
“Cynthia has served the volunteers and clients of Cancer Hope Network faithfully for more than a decade. She brings knowledge and heart to our work,” said Chairman Adam Weissenberg. “Her vision will benefit the patients, caregivers and survivors we serve. Last year we created more than 2,000 matches, the second highest number in CHN’s history. We look forward to building on that success with Cynthia and her team as her leadership helps the organization flourish and grow.”
Sarah Miretti Cassidy is the Director of External Affairs for Cancer Hope Network. For more information about CHN or to schedule an interview with Ms. Gutierrez Bernstein, contact her at 908.879.4039 x20 or scassidy (at) cancerhopenetwork.org.