WORK LIFE PROFILE

Helping others

Evelyn Harris founded the Tri-County Breast Cancer Support Group


Evelyn Harris is the president of the Tri-County Breast Cancer Support Group Inc. Her husband, Charles, left, has been repairing watches out of what is now their combined office since the 1960s.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 31, 2003 at 10:52 p.m.

Facts

PROFILE: Evelyn Harris

  • PERSONAL: married, three children

  • CAR SHE DRIVES: Chevrolet Caprice

  • LAST BOOK READ: "Paradise," by Toni Morrison

  • LAST MOVIE SEEN: "S.W.A.T."

  • BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: "Never walk around with your head down, always keep a smile on your face and look people in the eye when you're talking to them," from her grandfather

  • HER GUIDING LIGHT: To help people in need.

  • CHIEFLAND- After surviving a heart attack, Evelyn Harris needed to finish her career as a nurse and find a job with less stress. With her background in floral design, she started her own gift basket business as a way to earn a living.
    But Harris never lost her desire to help others, something that stayed with her through more than 20 years in the health care industry. With $2,000 of her own money, Harris founded the Tri-County Breast Cancer Support Group Inc. about three years ago.
    The organization supports those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer through child care, financial assistance and other services, and it serves residents in Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties.
    "I just decided that we needed some type of support group here," Harris said. "There are so many women in our area who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Some don't have insurance, and many of them are single mothers. They need help."
    Working with the American Cancer Society and other health care groups, Harris gets referrals on women who have been diagnosed with the disease. The Tri-County organization is dedicated to Harris' sister-in-law, Barbara Harris McDowell, who died from breast cancer in 1995.
    Relying mainly on private and corporate donations for financial support, Harris runs the organization with volunteer help. Yard sales, bake sales and donations from groups like the Levy County Horse Riding Club also provide revenues for the Tri-County group.
    Harris is also in the process of planning the Tri-County organization's annual benefit dinner in October, which is its biggest fund-raiser. Since Harris started the organization in 2000, she estimated that 300 women have been diagnosed with breast cancer in Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties.
    "Some women find this tough to talk about, and maybe we don't reach every single person," Harris said. "But if I do meet with someone, I basically tell them what we're all about. I just want them to know that we're here for them."
    Harris isn't the only one who subsidizes the support group with her personal income. Her husband, Charles, has been a jewelry and watch repairman for nearly 40 years, and like Evelyn, he donates 10 percent of his business' revenues to the Tri-County organization.
    After passing a state exam in 1966 to become certified in watch repair, Charles Harris went to work in Cross City. At different times, he also performed repairs for customers of Sears and Service Merchandise before going into business for himself.
    "I've had clientele from Chiefland and all the way to Tallahassee in the north and Ocala to the south," he said. "Now, I pretty much serve people in Levy, Gilchrist and Dixie counties."
    Harris, who is partially paralyzed from an accident, performs stone and diamond settings and other jewelry-related work along with his watch repairs. He formerly owned a shop in Chiefland, but now works out of his home, as does Evelyn with the gift basket business and the Tri-County group.
    "The watch business has changed a lot," he said. "There are some good watches out there, but they don't make them like they used to. A lot of the stuff being made today is throwaway, it's not even worth the cost of repairing it. But I like to repair older watches along with the new stuff, so there's still a lot of work out there."
    Evelyn said her next order of business is to elect a new board of directors for the Tri-County group, as well as find new avenues for donations and increase the number of volunteers.
    "We're always looking for more help," she said. "I'm in it for the long haul. If there's nobody here but me, I'm going to keep helping as many women as I can."
    Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or coombsj@gvillesun.com.

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