TriBeCause: I’m Too Young for This!

Kenny Kane (left) and Matthew Zachary in the almost-finished space

“Seven times more young adults get cancer than kids,” says Matthew Zachary, defining “young adults” the way the government does, as 15 to 40 years old. “It’s very difficult to have cancer when you’re young. When you’re 70, you don’t care about fertility. You don’t care about insurance, because you have Medicare. When you’re 70—or when you’re 7—you don’t care about how it affects your marriage, your relationships, your employment. You don’t have to explain gaps in your résumé. You don’t need peer support—or if you do, you get it from people your age.”

Diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer as a college student, Zachary saw the need firsthand for a national organization that could help young adults with cancer. A concert pianist and composer who went into marketing and branding, he quit in 2002 to found Steps for Living. “I applied the skills I learned selling Doritos to teenagers,” he says. In 2007, Steps for Living was renamed the I’m Too Young for This! Cancer Foundation, also known as i[2]y. And since the summer of 2008, i[2]y has been based at 40 Worth. The owner of the building let them use the space, “allowing us to grow and save, but now we’re becoming legitimate tenants.” (More on that in a minute.)

The foundation has four employees, two full-time and two part-time, as well as seven part-time “senior volunteers” around the country who help with exhibitions and fund-raising. From the small space at 40 Worth, the i[2]y team handles business development, co-organizes the OMG! Cancer Summit, distributes literature, and produces a weekly Internet radio show called “Stupid Cancer”—it has more than 220,000 listeners, and upcoming guests include Patrick Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi, and Darlene Hunt, executive producer of Showtime’s “The Big C.”

The goal is to be a part of the system while coming off as anti-establishment, because an outsider tone is one younger people relate best to. “We’re edgy but not offensive,” says Zachary, choosing candor over bureaucratese: “We’re a bit of a watchdog group. It’s very David and Goliath. But several multimillion dollar national organizations have been influenced by us.” Members don’t have to have (or have had) cancer. “Our members are young adults affected by cancer,” says Zachary. “We have a lot of significant others.”

I came across i[2]y when I saw a tweet looking for interns. “We’re looking for people to help with traditional office work,” says Kenny Kane, senior operations associate. “But we also do non-traditional internships. A lot of people come in wanting to work in development.” A couple of interns, to that end, will soon lead a bar crawl, which is about as non-traditional as internships get.

If you have some free time on Tuesday, stop by i[2]y’s brand-new, 1,350-square-foot space on the 8th floor of 40 Worth: “We’re having a put-together-a-thon,” says Kane. “We’ll give you lunch and beer. We’re starting at 9 a.m. Well, the beer might not start at 9 a.m.” Just because too young for some things doesn’t mean you can’t be too old for others….


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