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Giving Rye: Meet Soul Ryeders

(PHOTO: Heidi Kitlas, executive director of Soul Ryeders.)
(PHOTO: Heidi Kitlas, executive director of Soul Ryeders.)

Giving Rye is a new occasional feature highlighting non-profits and community groups in and around the City of Rye. Today meet Heidi Kitlas of Soul Ryeders.

Your Name: Heidi Kitlas

Organization: Soul Ryeders

Your role:  Executive Director

MyRye.com: Tell us your organization’s mission. 

Kitlas: Soul Ryeders provides personalized resources, innovative programs and community support to anyone in the New York Tri-State area impacted by any type of cancer.

How long have you operated in Rye? 

Kitlas: 16 years, since 2007

(PHOTO: A Soul Ryeders client and caregiver hike in 2023.)
(PHOTO: A Soul Ryeders client and caregiver hike in 2023.)

What programming or work in Rye is the organization best known for? 

Kitlas: Whether someone is newly diagnosed, in treatment or post-treatment, we  provide individualized, supportive services and programming to anyone with any type or cancer and their caregivers. Our personalized resources and care are created with the understanding of our client’s unique experience.

  1. Initial interaction and services: Once someone reaches out for support, our team connects with them to understand their specific circumstance and diagnosis. Within the following weeks, each client will have the opportunity to be fitted for a wig, receive care packages delivered to their doorstep and receive one-on-one sessions with our clinical social worker to help them navigate their experience.
  2. Support groups, classes and workshops: After the initial introduction to our services, clients have full access to our weekly Yoga 4 Cancer and Meditation classes, monthly educational and therapeutic workshops, as well as support groups.
  3. Volunteer efforts: With over 400 volunteers annually, we are able to provide personalized touches through our services and events. Our dedicated volunteers create homemade items for our clients, deliver care packages, ensure events are supported and so much more.

Looking forward to 2024, what will be your top initiatives?

Kitlas: 

  1. Peer Support Program: We will be connecting our first group of trained peer mentors with new clients starting in 2024. This is a new initiative and we are excited to launch this program and connect those who have experienced a cancer diagnosis with those who are newly diagnosed to provide an extra level of support.
  2. 2nd Half Marathon & 5k: We have been motivated to organize our second annual half marathon & 5k since our successful inaugural event this year. In 2024, we will include additional support for all those who have had a cancer diagnosis. Join us on May 19, 2024!
  3. Founding Board Members: As our founding board members step down, we will thank and celebrate them at an event and create a new advisory council to honor their contributions and continue their connection to our work. 

Tell us about the population you serve and how they can get involved with your programming and services.

Kitlas: Soul Ryeders serves anyone who has or has had a cancer diagnosis and those who care for them. Anyone interested in our programs and services can complete our new client/caregiver intake form on our website or give us a call. Once you reach out, our intake coordinator will connect with you and determine how best we can be there for you. A few options are:

  • one-on-one time with our clinical social worker to gain resources for your specific diagnosis and situation
  • meet a volunteer wig advisor to be fitted for a wig
  • sign up for a Yoga4Cancer class and/or our Meditation & Conversation group
  • join one of our support groups

Are you a 501(c)(3) non-profit with tax exempt status?

Kitlas: yes

(PHOTO: The Soul Ryeders leadership team in 2023.)
(PHOTO: The Soul Ryeders leadership team in 2023.)

Looking back across 2023, what were your organization’s top achievements? 

Kitlas: This past year we were thrilled to be back in-person with numerous events to kick off the first year of our newest strategic plan focusing on connection and community.

  1. Half Marathon & 5k: Organized our inaugural event with over 1,400 registrants, more than 1,100 finishers representing 14 states and 7 countries. We raised over $100,000 to provide support for those we serve.
  2. Volunteers: With over 400 volunteers each year, we were happy to bring back our volunteer thank you event to acknowledge the efforts of all those who give their time and talent to our work.
  3. Client support: We have had, unfortunately, a continued increase in new clients reaching out, as well as expanding outreach with our current clients. The overall need for psychosocial support is growing and we created new ways to meet the needs of our clients internally and externally over the course of the year. We will ensure the depth of connection with each client, even as we need to scale our team, as long as there are individuals who need our resources and programs.

How can local residents support your organization?

Kitlas: There are three main ways you can connect with Soul Ryeders:

  1. Refer someone: If you know of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and could use our support, you can tell them about us and direct them to our website to complete a new client form so we can provide them with individualized care and resources.
  2. Volunteer: We have opportunities for all ages with various time commitments to create handmade items for our clients, tie bows for TieTheTownPink or be a course marshall for our race. If you are an individual, club, school group or corporation, visit our volunteer page on our website to reach out and learn more.
  3. Donate: Our organization can provide resources to those who have a cancer diagnosis due to your generous philanthropic support. Individual donations are our foundational base of funding to ensure that anyone who reaches out to us receives compassion, connection and personalized care.
(PHOTO: Heidi Kitlas, executive director of Soul Ryeders, with Board Chair Brian Smith and his son.)
(PHOTO: Heidi Kitlas, executive director of Soul Ryeders, with Board Chair Brian Smith and his son.)

What local Rye residents and area businesses have been the longest, steadiest supporters of your organization?

Kitlas: Soul Ryeders was founded by Sandy Samberg with the support of numerous friends and family, who over the years participated in the Avon39 walk to raise donations that ultimately funded the initial programs that became the start of our organization. Sandy, our founding board members – including Laura DeVita, Mark Doran, Dawn Ewing, Pati Holmes, William Miller, Tiffany O’Toole, Emily Sharko, and Kerri Winderman – and our founding philanthropic Giving Circle members have made significant contributions of time, talent and financial investment to ensure the success of our mission.

Tell us about you:

How long have you been in your current role? 

Kitlas: Two and a half years as Executive Director – with 5 years working as the Director of Development

Is the role full time or part time? Paid or volunteer? 

Kitlas: full time position

How would your friends and family describe you in one word? 

Kitlas: hopeful

Pick one:

Kitlas: 

MyRye.com

Select from:

Your Pick:
Coke or Pepsi? coke
Regular or diet? regular
Action movie or rom com? british dramas and comedies
Cook, order in or eat out? cook – homemade everything
Dog, cat or no pet? dog and cat
Balsamic vinaigrette or ranch? balsamic vinaigrette
Ruffles Original, Lay’s Barbeque or Funyuns? popcorn
Still, sparkling or tap? tap

What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you? 

Kitlas: When I was first diagnosed with cancer I found that many people didn’t know what to say to me. One day, two women who I worked with at the time, came to my house with so much food! They made us dinner and had food packaged up to go straight into the freezer. I didn’t know them that well and they hadn’t said anything to me about my diagnosis before this. They simply made food and brought it over. There was so much kindness in that gesture I was overwhelmed.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why, and who would you take with you? 

Kitlas: I certainly have fun exploring new places although I would love a cabin on a lake big enough for family and friends to simply be together.

What is your favorite streaming / TV series?

Kitlas: 

Comedy: Seinfeld and The Office

Drama: The Wire and Breaking Bad

British series: Miss Marple Mysteries and Pride & Prejudice

What is your favorite movie?

Kitlas: The Shawshank Redemption and Amelie

Where do you live in Rye and how many years have you lived in the City?

Kitlas: Beacon, NY

Please provide links to:

Organization’s website.

Specific donation link

Instagram.

LinkedIn.

Twitter (X).

Facebook.

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