Though at first a simple backyard gathering with a few friends to raise funds for breast cancer patients, THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser (THE BCF) is now a major nonprofit organization founded by Nilo G. THE BCF works throughout the country to preserve the dignity of both breast cancer patients and their loved ones. Nilo first organized her friends together in 2003 to support the passion she felt for the fight against breast cancer. She continued with gatherings until 2009 when she founded THE BCF.
Nilo attended California State University, Fullerton, and is now wife of Warren Low and mother of their son, Luca. After holding her first backyard party at the age of 19 in Orange County, California, Nilo, with support from her friends, decided to hold yearly parties to raise funds for breast cancer. These annual events inspired her to found not only THE BCF but also her own event production company, Kapture Vision, where she serves as CEO.
“I’m a huge believer that when you follow your passion, your purpose can come through,” Nilo said. “Before founding Kapture Vision, I was following a passion to raise money for breast cancer patients. I didn’t know I was going to start a nonprofit organization, I was just fundraising. But what transpired was a realization that I was good at putting on events, I was good at bringing people together, and that I had a natural talent to organize and create positive gatherings. What’s really amazing is that through my sincere volunteerism, I learned that I wanted to build a career around events. There was a lot of dialogue in those first two years of if I just wanted to build a nonprofit and make that my job, my career, but I kept coming back to the fact that I wanted THE BCF to always be my passion project, my volunteer work. I didn’t want to get paid from that source of effort. I wanted to make money creating other events and use that platform to continue to help breast cancer patients. So, that’s really how Kapture Vision was created; I learned early on that I was good at events thanks to THE BCF.”
CREATING THE BCF
Nilo said personally watching the effects of breast cancer change and harm the people in her life is what first lit the spark to begin raising money for the cause.
“What really inspired my strong feelings on the issue was when my best friend’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “They lived across the street from my house, and every day after school I would go hang out with my friend and see his mom. She was always the light of the room. Whenever you would walk in, her full personality and bold attitude was there to welcome you. And, during the period of her life after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was amazed at how her light dimmed. I am very excited and grateful to say that she is alive and thriving and is now a cancer survivor. But, from that process of watching her journey and the toll breast cancer took upon her, I was ignited to do something. I wanted to really show her that we all cared about her and her journey and that she wasn’t alone.
“So, I said to my friends, ‘Come over, we’re going to have a breast cancer fundraiser.’ I held it in the backyard of my parents’ house, charged every friend $5 and raised $150 bucks. I called a national breast cancer organization, and said, ‘Hey, I have a $150 check for you.’ They told me thank you, and that was the end of it. And I honestly thought that it was over, but the following year my friends said to me, ‘That was really fun, you should do it again, you gotta do it again.’ So, based on their encouragement, I did. And a few friends’ parents found out, so they wrote a check for $500 or a check for $1,000 and we got to raise more money than the year before. Then the following year I did it again, and through my 20s I just kept doing it.”
Nilo explained the way the events spread outside of Orange County, inspired by two people who had been attending her events for years but had just recently been directly impacted by breast cancer. It was around year seven of her annual events held in Orange County when she received a call from a man in San Francisco. She had not yet formed a nonprofit organization but had about 300 people attending annually and was raising around $30,000 for other breast cancer organizations.
The man who called said: “My girlfriend and I have been flying down to your event over the past couple years, and we haven’t had a chance yet to meet you, but what we think you’re doing is pretty incredible. We’ve never really known anyone with breast cancer but we’ve been so moved by what you’re doing. But that’s all changed for us, because last week my girlfriend, Alison, was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Nilo said that phone call was her “Aha! moment.”
“It just made me think this is way bigger than me. This isn’t just about me and my friends, or about me and my story, this is everybody.”
Alison was 31 when she was diagnosed, so it made Nilo realize that breast cancer was a disease that was now affecting people her own age; that people in her demographic were in the midst of fighting for their lives, for their femininity, for their growth and their careers.
“It overwhelmed me,” she said. “And he told me that they wanted to do what I was doing in San Francisco. That’s when the lightbulb went off that ‘THE BCF is not just an Orange County thing. This can do whatever it wants to do.’ So, we hosted an event in Northern California, and then my friends in New York City said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do one there, we want to do one here.’ So we hosted an event in New York. And then my friends in Chicago wanted one there so we went there, and we ended up going all over — to Miami, Los Angeles, Denver, and San Diego. That is how the organization progressed even more, and it is when that growth began that I started to realize that I wanted to know where the money was going. I wanted to be able to tell our donors exactly how we’re using their hard-earned donations. I really founded the organization to be able to steward the mission in a more impactful way.”
PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE
Nilo said most everyone has a connection with breast cancer and a natural drive to help others, which is part of what led THE BCF’s volunteer board of directors, advisory board and group of ambassadors to come together.
“I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned through philanthropy is that people want to give to people,” she said. “That is something that I’m continually reminded by, that the lesson to getting others involved is to remember that people give to people when they can. The board members, advisory members and ambassadors ended up falling in love with my passion for the organization and the need to support breast cancer patients. And each of them has a connection to the cause. Everybody seems to know somebody with breast cancer; it’s one of those diseases that’s unfortunately incredibly universal. Getting to share the cause, the mission, and others’ stories allows us all to be involved. Everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of something greater than themselves, and I think THE BCF does that for a lot of people.”
Nilo said a particular person and memory always sticks out in her mind when she thinks of the journey of THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser.
“Alison Giardinelli and I — the woman living in San Francisco who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and wanted to spread THE BCF’s events outside of Orange County — built a very beautiful friendship,” she said. “She was a huge supporter of the organization. Every year she was at our events and promoting THE BCF to the people around her in any way that she could. And, in 2013 when her cancer became very aggressive, Alison and I got together to get coffee. We were meeting at Starbucks, and she was standing in front of me in line, and I genuinely did not know it was her. I texted her and said, ‘Hey, I’m here, let me know when you get here.’ And she looked at her phone, and she looked at me, and she said, ‘Nilo, I’m right here.’”
Nilo said she had not recognized her friend. She had lost so much weight and everything had changed.
“But I could still see her essence and feel her,” Nilo said. “We sat down and she started to describe that the cancer had spread to her bones and that she was going through intensive treatments and that she just wasn’t well. But, Alison always had the spirit that she was going to survive. She said to me, ‘Nilo, I’m telling you. Next year I am going to help. I am going to go to every city with you and tell my story and help raise a lot of money for THE BCF.’ And I knew she was, too. But, we had met for coffee that November and in February of 2014 I received a phone call from a friend who said that Alison had passed away that morning after a six-year battle with breast cancer.”
Nilo said the day her friend died, her family had decided that instead of flowers they would like family and friends to donate to THE BCF in honor of Alison because of her passion for the organization. They asked Nilo to speak at the memorial service the following week where more than $10,000 was raised for THE BCF.
“That entire year, I traveled the country at every single one of our events sharing her story, and we raised tens of thousands of dollars through that,” Nilo said. “And, it’s very interesting. She and I both knew she was going to tell her story in that following year, and she and I both knew she was going to make an impact and raise money for our patients in need. We just didn’t know what it was going to look like. There is so much inspiration in who she was and her legacy that continues to live on. When I think about a key point of THE BCF, well, that’s it. Here is a girl who was the inspiration for why we started another city and grew beyond Orange County; fast-forward, and here’s a girl that ends up becoming a legacy within our organization.”
REWARDS OF THE JOURNEY
Nilo explained the way her time as the founder of THE BCF has benefitted her ability to perform service in the lives of others.
“The most rewarding part of this journey has been getting to take part in the collective energy of doing good work,” she said. “It’s given me an opportunity to say, ‘I know this breast cancer survivor, so I’m going to connect her with this person, and this person’s going to raise money for the organization, and this person has a friend who knows somebody who needs our help.’ It’s been infinitely rewarding to be a tiny little thread in this big web of generosity.”
Nilo expressed the essential role volunteerism has played in her life, and the important place that it should take in everyone’s heart.
“My mission is to be of service. I feel that whether it’s with family, my employees at Kapture, my volunteerism at THE BCF, or with my friends, I want to be used to help people. I want to serve them in the ways that only I can, because there’s only one Nilo G. Low. Every single one of us is unique, and every single one of us has our own individual set of talents and skills we can use to help others. I believe that everyone needs to take part in the service of others, whatever that may be. I think serving is just as important as the basic parts of life, as important as making money or having love in your life. Even if it’s something small, just do it, because when you act, something comes from the action. It’s a ripple. And, if you feel called to, we here at THE BCF could always use your acts of service, so contact us. Remember, when you’re feeling discouraged or confused because life isn’t going the way you want it to, to get out and serve others. You’ll get clarity,” she said.
When Nilo reflected on the beginnings of THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser, she said she could see how important it is to follow and support causes that you feel passionate about.
“I think that when people listen to whatever their calling is, they just have to take that next step,” she said. “When I was 19 and began gathering people together to raise funds for breast cancer, it wasn’t really something abnormal to me. I’m really not a risk taker. I was just ready for my call and followed it. And whatever that is, whatever makes you interested, whatever keeps you up at night thinking about others that is something you should pay attention to. If it lights something in you, then I believe that we all have a responsibility to respond to that. The response doesn’t have to be some grandiose protest; it can be a phone call, a post on Instagram, or maybe a party in your backyard. If there’s something you’re passionate about, go after it, regardless of the outcome. Do it because it feels like you have to.”
For more information on THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser, visit THEBCF.org