13Thirty Cancer Connect: Empowering Young Adults with Cancer

Before Melissa Spiker passed away from cancer at the age of 19, she made her mother promise her something: that she would help young adults and teens impacted by cancer after she was gone.

After her daughter’s passing in 2001, Lauren Spiker founded 13Thirty in Rochester, NY with Melissa’s request in mind. The nonprofit organization provides support to young people with cancer through programs and events.

“It has taken 20 years to build what we think is an incredible support system for teens and young adults who have been diagnosed with any form of cancer,” explained Spiker, founder and executive director of 13Thirty. “We wanted to make sure Melissa’s spirit was the base of our mission.”

In the summer of 2019, Lauren and her team introduced 13Thirty to the Syracuse community. From the beginning, she knew she would need community support and was able to collaborate with local organizations and foundations to make her vision a reality. Among that list was the Central New York Community Foundation, which provided 13Thirty with a $8,900 grant toward renovations to the kitchen and wellness center in its Syracuse location.

13Thirty Cancer Connect Graphic

The center in Syracuse underwent a significant face lift. Walls and flooring were removed to produce an open space with bright and vibrant colors. The wellness center is equipped with fitness machines and weights that help visitors feel healthy, optimistic, and empowered. A fully stocked kitchen for nutritional programs is available as well.

“We want our youth to know that cancer does not define who they are,” said Stephen Esposito, program director of 13Thirty. “The hope is to give them a platform to share their experiences in a safe place and make sure every program provides just that.”

Young people who are diagnosed with cancer experience psychological and emotional impacts that can decrease their self-confidence. 13Thirty is hopeful that its wellness center will enhance their psychological health. The organization provides group fitness classes led by a trainer who is a cancer survivor herself. Youth enter the center knowing that they will be empowered and supported by fellow peers and staff.

“They need to get to know other people who are going through the same stuff as them,” shared Megan Scott, program leader of 13Thirty Syracuse center. “It really helps them grow and understand what is going on in their own lives as well as having a support community that gets it.”

13Thirty’s work will go a long way in helping young people and their families. To learn more about 13Thirty Cancer Connect, please visit their website at 13thirty.org.

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