Heather Salazar has put family first in every aspect of her life — and this includes the hundreds of women she has made family by choice.
“There really is nothing like family,” Salazar said.
Equipped with a heart of gold, Salazar triumphed after a trying journey that led her to become the president and CEO of the Dayton-based non-profit organization, Pink Ribbon Girls in 2012. The organization supports and empowers those in the fight against breast and gynecological cancers.
“In 2002, I met a young woman diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer,” Salazar said. “She was raised in the foster care system and looking for a home for her baby, Lexi. My husband and I adopted Lexi in 2002. We took her mom to treatment and helped care for her. (The mother) passed away in 2003 at the young age of 24. Just two years later while doing a self exam, I found a lump and was diagnosed with the same kind of aggressive breast cancer as Lexi's mom. I was an early stage. After getting through treatment, I wanted to do something tangible to really help women and their families going through the toughest battle of their lives.”
Salazar was born into a very large family in Ohio and moved with family to Tipp City while in high school. She married her husband Steve at a young age, and the couple has called Dayton home ever since he got out of the military. The Salazars wanted their children to grow up near their grandparents, who have been together for 67 years.
>> Pink Ribbon Girls leader shares inspirational story on TODAY
Before Salazar became the CEO and president of PRG, the 501c3 non-profit did not offer free direct services of meals, housecleaning, rides to treatment or peer support — now at the core of PRG's mission to make sure "No One Travels This Road Alone." She has helped countless survivors and those currently battling cancer. She is our Daytonian of the Week.
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💗What is it like to be the CEO and president of a nonprofit organization?
“I am beyond humbled and honored to be the CEO of Pink Ribbon Girls. This organization is special because of the people involved. I always say we need doers, donors and door openers. We have so many amazing people that fit into those categories and we all work together to make a difference. At one of our events this past month, I had an out-of-town guest say, "The room was exhilarating, every person in that room owned a piece of PRG." That made me cry. That is the truth. We say #thepowerofWE, we couldn't do it without each person in this community that makes us successful.”
💗What are the biggest positives and biggest challenges of being the president of PRG?
“The biggest positive is to see this family come together. To see our pink trucks, bagels, pink beer, home city ice, donuts, radio and TV stations. The list goes on and on. They come together to make a difference. They know every $8 raised serves one meal. The families we serve are so grateful and mean so much to us, as we get to know them and we "get" to share their journey, both the highs and the lows, they change our lives and perspective. The biggest challenge is sitting beside a young mom with days left to live and watching her look at her children fully recognizing she won't see them grow up. These moms are what keep us going. They live every day to the fullest. They don't sweat the small stuff. They don't give up. Knowing them is the biggest blessing of all.”
💗Can you tell me a few of your favorite moments that you've experienced while being the president of PRG?
“In 2013, we served 10,250 meals, in 2017, we served 70,000 meals. This year we will be close to 100,000 meals. We know cancer isn't prejudiced or biased. We are so grateful we serve everyone regardless of socioeconomic status. One of my favorite moments was at our Survivors breakfast at The Greene. We had over 100 survivors and their caregivers that have received our services. To hear their stories and how it helped them get through was truly amazing. Another favorite was at Austin Landing’s New Years Eve Party. It was a cold night, and a young lady and her family came on a party bus. They were celebrating the end of treatment, and they were so excited to come and support PRG. They said the fireworks and celebration were just for them. I said ‘yes,’ 2,000 people celebrating the gift of living, it doesn't get much better than that.”
💗 What is special about the people in the PRG family?
“We don't use that term lightly. What family really means: It means the people who accept you no matter who you are, where there's no hatred or judgment. The love of a family should be unconditional, and everyone should try their best to provide all they can for the people in their family, emotionally and financially. That is what PRG is. We are a group of people that come together for a common cause and really "show up" for others in our community fighting to get through. We don't just TALK about cancer, we TAKE ON cancer. Over half of the people we serve have metastatic cancer; they will be on treatment the rest of their lives. We are there with them through it all.”
💗How well do you think the Dayton-area has embraced your nonprofit?
“Dayton has embraced PRG more than you can imagine. Look around and you can see how they show the love. At this point, we have served our donors, employees, aunts, sisters or friends. Dayton continues to come around PRG and show us unconditional love, just as family will do. Dayton, we wouldn't be who we are without you.”
💗What are you favorite go-to spots in the Dayton-area? Do you have a place that you think is a hidden gem?
“I have so many go-to spots in Dayton. I love this city. I love Coldwater, north of Dayton, Coco's, Blueberry Caf, Submarine House and the Dublin Pub. The Dublin Pub is a perfect example of family. We got to know and love their Suzie when she went through the battle, now they love and support PRG any way they can. Dayton, you are my people. There is no place like home, you are my family. I am so grateful.”