JOHNSTOWN – Helping to defeat breast cancer is the aim of dozens of women who raise tens of thousands of dollars each year for that goal.
The fourth annual Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Gala, held April 27 at the Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown, raised $53,000 for the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber.
A total of 775 women were in attendance.
Over the four years, the event has raised a total of $133,000.
The event was named in honor of the late Taunia Oechslin of Westmont, who was battling breast cancer when she started the event. Oechslin’s goal was to make sure that every woman learned about breast cancer, understood the importance of early detection of the disease and had access to proper treatment.
Oechslin died in the spring of 2009 at the age of 39.
The event featured dinner, music and inspirational stories honoring breast-cancer survivors.
“It was a beautiful evening,” said Pam McCall, who serves on the 35-member gala committee.
The money raised will help the Breast Care Center fight cancer, she said.
“The support is just amazing,” McCall said, adding that family members, friends and co-workers of committee members plus many businesses donated gift baskets that were auctioned or chanced off at the event.
“The entire staff at the Breast Care Center is wonderful and helped at the event plus donated baskets,” she said.
McCall, a secretary at the office of the Cambria County district attorney, was inspired by Oechslin’s desire to help women despite being ill.
“I admired Taunia for never giving up,” she said. “She was a fighter.”
Leida Milazzo, another committee member and a breast-cancer survivor, said she volunteered to help after overhearing Oechslin discussing the event with others at the Breast Care Center.
“I was so impressed with Taunia,” she said. “Here is this young woman battling cancer, yet she is so upbeat and positive.
“It was comforting to me to see this person and get involved with her.
“Taunia losing her fight was very difficult for everybody, but her spirit is living on through this event.”
Milazzo, a retired teacher who taught at a couple of Johnstown area schools, said she can’t say enough of nice things about the Breast Care Center.
Kim Riek, another committee member, said helping with the event is personal to her because breast cancer has affected several members of her family.
“The best way to fight breast cancer is to have it detected in its early stages,” said Riek, who schedules annual screenings to guard herself.
She said the money raised will go toward educating women about breast cancer, for various tests and to help women who can’t afford the tests.
“Volunteering with Girls Night Out is something that is close to my heart,” said Riek, a vice president and commercial loan officer for the Richland office of Somerset Trust Co.
“It’s very rewarding, and it’s nice to give back to the community.”
For their efforts, McCall, of Sidman, and Milazzo and Riek, both of Richland Township, are the Persons of the Week.
Meghan Stahl-Skinner, chairwoman of the event, said the three have been involved with the event since its beginning and have been a tremendous help in raising money and bringing awareness to the event.
The other committee members are just as dedicated to the event, she said.
Patty Felton, director of the Breast Care Center, said the center is grateful to the committee for the tremendous effort in raising funds.
“Kim, Pam and Leida have been with the committee for several years,” she said. “They always get the job done and go the extra mile to help in any way possible.”
The money raised will help the center to fight breast disorders through prevention, diagnosis, treatment and research, Felton said.
Source: Tribune Democrat