After 22 years with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the executive director of the Georgia chapter retired last month. Under the foundation, she established the first summer camp for children with inflammatory bowel disease, and increased fundraising and the involvement of Georgia doctors.
Marcia Greenburg Davis, who lives with Crohn’s disease, attributes the core values of Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to her long career with the organization. “I felt continually motivated and inspired because the work is exciting. There are new discoveries all the time. Every day we get closer to finding a cure for Crohn’s and colitis.”
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control, 3 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with IBD. Crohn’s disease is four to five times more prevalent in the Ashkenazi population than in the general population.
As a volunteer in 1986, Davis and her friend, Sherri Wildstein, established the Georgia chapter to support people living with IBD. Davis said she recognized a need for local support groups because six of her family members also live with Crohn’s disease.
She had no aspirations to work for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation; she was working for a nonprofit and enjoyed volunteering. But in 1996, Davis was asked to step in as the chapter’s executive director. Soon after, Wildstein became the board of trustees’ president.
Davis enthusiastically jumped into her role. In 1997, she perceived a gap in care and founded what is believed to be the first summer camp in the country for children living with IBD. With just 14 children and Pediatric Gastroenterologist Stanley Cohen, Camp Oasis was born.
The co-ed residential summer camp concept spread nationwide. Today 1,000 pediatric IBD patients attend 10 camps across the country. Locally, it is held at Camp Twin Lakes in Rutledge, Ga.
“Living with IBD can be isolating and lonely. Kids want to go to camp just like anybody else,” said Karen Rittenbaum, the foundation’s Southeast regional director.
Campers gather for a transformational week with medical staff and volunteer counselors, many of whom live with IBD as well.
“Marcia was driven to make an impact on the IBD community, locally and nationally. She engaged the medical community in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Marcia’s passion created deep, long-lasting relationships,” Rittenbaum said.
Davis increased involvement of Savannah and Atlanta-area medical professionals to create educational programming and serve as board members. They include Jewish doctors Douglas Wolf, medical advisory committee member, Larry Saripkin, Camp Oasis director, and Philip Spandorfer, pediatrician.
When Davis became executive director of the Georgia chapter, one of 40 in the U.S., it was pulling in about $325,000 a year in fundraising. Currently, the Georgia chapter raises about $2 million a year and is one of the top 10 highest-producing chapters in the U.S.
Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation fundraising dollars go to research, advancing treatments, patient education and support programs. “As the organization grew, the work became more expansive. The more discoveries were made in research, the more inspiring it was for me. When I started, I knew the mission was to find a cure, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I didn’t have it in my mind that it could happen in my lifetime. The more discoveries, the more treatments, the more motivation I had,” Davis said.
Rittenbaum and Davis worked together for nearly 20 years, and have known each other for 30. Talking to the two women, it is clear their friendship goes beyond the walls of the office. Rittenbaum described Davis’ talents: A compassionate, community builder who knows how to connect.
“I learned at the foot of the master and it was my privilege to work with her every day. She was my coach and mentor. She taught me how to listen, how to connect.”
Davis was a highly respected executive director who impacted Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation from coast to coast.
“Sometimes people don’t feel that their $25 donation makes much of an impact. It does. We thank people for being a part of the greater community. Marcia lived that every day she led this chapter. It was infused into staff, events and fundraising,” Rittenbaum said.