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Catch Up on How Nick Arquette has Changed the Cancer Community by Creating Walk With Sally

Written By: Katie Fugnetti Walk With Sally Leads the Cancer Community to Their Mentor Program
Photographed By: Taso Papdakis

Walk With Sally
840 Apollo St, Ste 324
El Segundo, CA 90245
310.322.3900 | www.walkwithsally.org

A mentor is someone who has walked our path before we have. They are experienced advisors who, for whatever reason, have chosen to take an interest in the next generation. Whether a personal or business mentor, they can be the most influential person in our lives, leading us by example to the light at the end of the tunnel. Mentoring has become so important that every year the whole month of January is dedicated to it.

There are online resources to help us find mentors in a community whether it be in business, faith organizations, schools or nonprofits. At Walk with Sally, an El Segundo based nonprofit, they understand just how powerful mentoring can be for children impacted by losing a parent to cancer.

It’s a breezy Sunday morning, and I’ve driven out to Tarsan Stand Up Paddle in Redondo Beach. I’m here to meet the founder of Walk with Sally, Nick Arquette, and to find out more about the man behind the vision. The surf shop is packed with kids, parents and their mentors and there is a nervous excitement in the air. I’m told that today is a very special day. Not only do mentors and kids get to learn how to paddle board from the experts, but they have the rare opportunity to meet others who have found hope on the other side of cancer. After everyone is outfitted and a decisive game of Rochambeau is played, then it’s out to the sand where the kids take turns paddling in the harbor and running in relay races. That is where I find Arquette. He is a blur, running at full speed around a cone and back across the sand to the finish line. After high-fives all around, he takes a breather to tell me more about Walk with Sally.

Arquette’s mother, Sally, is the inspiration behind the program. As a single mother, working two jobs to support her sons, she was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Arquette was 16 when, after five years of treatment, his mother passed away. “Cancer changes everything, ” Arquette said. In fact, his whole life would change when he and his brother were forced to move across the country to live with their dad. “I am honestly not sure how I even made it through that time, ” Arquette said.

In 2005, while working in the film industry, he recalls waking up at the age of 32, after having not seen his mom in 16 years. His memory of her was slipping away, and he wanted to do something about it. He knew from experience that kids who’ve lost a parent to cancer should have someone to talk to who knows what they are going through. Arquette saw a void in cancer treatment and realized he might be the best person to do something about it. After researching the positive effects of mentoring, he developed a mentorship model with a small group of friends and volunteers. He then piloted it at a local school where he began mentoring a boy named Hossany who had also lost his mother to cancer. Due to their common experience with cancer, they formed a fast friendship and Arquette noticed an immediate improvement in Hossany’s social skills and grades at school. He knew then that he was on to something special.

That pilot program has grown into Walk with Sally. For the past 10 years, their mission has been to provide free mentoring services to children with a parent living with cancer or who have lost a parent, guardian or sibling to cancer. Their model focuses on forming successful matches, which they simply call friendships. Mentors must have a cancer story and are required to devote at least one year to their mentee. “Most mentors tell me after one year that they can’t imagine ever leaving the child, ” Arquette says. For this reason, the staff at Walk With Sally dedicate most of their time and resources to making matches based on geographical location, interests and cancer stories. They want to make sure that it’s easy for the child and mentor to get together, have fun and form bonds that will last a lifetime.

Earlier in the day, I spoke with a mentor, Bob Oh, who went looking for an opportunity to give back after losing his mother to leukemia four years ago. He has been involved with the program for just two months and both he and his mentee, Nathan, seem ecstatic to have been paired together. Nathan could barely wait to tell me that he had recently had the chance to build a solar-powered robot with Oh, who works as an engineer. At 11 years old, he loves math and science and wants to be a systems engineer. “He is one of the brightest kids I’ve ever met! He has a job waiting for him, ” says Oh. Later in the day, my heart sank to learn that Nathan had lost his father to cancer in January, just two days after his father’s 46th birthday.

You wouldn’t know it at first glance, but everyone here has a cancer story. Melissa Boyce, 31, of Hermosa Beach, has been a mentor to Dossie for eight months. “We mostly do girl stuff, ” Boyce tells me. She was inspired to get involved with Walk with Sally after volunteering at their summer fundraising event. She had experienced the devastation of losing her father to cancer when she was 12 years old. Dossie is one of five children and the only girl. She tells me she and Boyce are girlfriends and do fun things like paint and go to plays. “I feel like I’m getting the most out of this, ” Boyce says as she tells me about the friendship she has formed with Dossie’s mom. “Witnessing what she is going through with her husband’s cancer has completely changed my perspective on what my mom was going through with my dad.”

Although mentoring is mostly done one-on-one, every couple months the staff at Walk With Sally organizes friendship activities. In the past, they’ve done activities like surfing and ocean therapy with the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, whale watching at the Ocean Institute and the ropes course at Fulcrum Adventures. However, today it’s all about standup paddle boarding!

“We’re recreating family and community, ” Arquette says, “and that is huge!” Many of these kids have never been to the beach, let alone had an opportunity to learn how to paddle board. “Today is their day, and we’re bringing joy and light back into their lives, ” Arquette says. The friendship activities, together with one-on-one mentoring and careful attention to matching kids to mentors is a model Arquette believes can be expanded to every city in the U.S. and the world. “Where there is cancer, there is a need and this need turns into a mission for us, ” Arquette says.

Walk With Sally has grown over 100 percent in the past three years and is expanding it’s reach. The group is funded entirely by donations from individuals and businesses in the South Bay community. Every July is White Light White Night, the premier fundraising event. “This is not your typical fundraiser, ” Arquette says grinning ear-to-ear. “There are no tuxedos quietly mingling in a hotel conference hall. It is a party!” They invite local restaurants, offer food, wine, dancing, a live auction and live music. Although they’ve had bands like Berlin, Blues Traveler and Smash Mouth rock the party in the past, this year, they welcomed Neil Diamond tribute artist and local fan favorite Super Diamond. Everyone wears white, to bring light to the children and in honor of Sally. The goal of the event is to raise money but also to share real life stories with the community. “It’s a fun and powerful evening, and I think people leave feeling cleansed, ” Arquette says.

If you’re feeling inspired, remember October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Walk With Sally is encouraging everyone to get involved in organizing their own fundraising campaign. Host a wine party, or help your kids organize a car wash anytime during the month of October and donate all proceeds to Walk With Sally. Get creative and embrace the opportunity to raise awareness of the effects of breast cancer while making a positive impact on your community.

Native Knowledge: The first mentee at Walk With Sally has gone to college after eight years with her mentor! Walk With Sally is proud to have awarded her a scholarship for her studies, and hopes to make scholarships available to every mentee pursuing higher education in the future.

3 Facts About White Light White Night:
1. It was inspired by the healing color Arquette and his mother used for meditation.
2. “White Light” comes from the times Arquette remembers sitting with his brother and mom while envisioning white light all around her as part of her cancer healing treatment.
3. Everyone wears white and brings a white light to commemorate Arquette’s mother, Sally.

Walk With Sally Current Events:
1. Walk With Sally has expanded to Orange County and currently has one mentor/mentee match.
2. There are 16 kids on the waiting list for OC’s Walk With Sally, so the nonprofit is in need of more mentors.