A String of Rare Pearls

The illustrious Coco Chanel once said, “A woman needs strings and strings of pearls”… What if she’s a young woman battling cancer? What does she need then? Some would say she needs just one pearl—Pink Pearl.

Pink Pearl Foundation, a budding registered Canadian charity, provides support, facilitates connections, and empowers young women (between the ages of 18 and 40) working through the social and emotional challenges of cancer of any type, mainly across southern Ontario.

In only its third year of operation as a not-for-profit, Pink Pearl Foundation has touched the lives of over 500 young female cancer fighters. It does so through a suite of innovative support programs offered at no cost to its program participants. These include: day-long and over-night wellness retreats; support packages for hospitals and wellness centres; local social gatherings; family support days; and post-secondary scholarships.

And Pink Pearl relies solely on the work of volunteers to deliver.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re shining the spotlight on the 24 female volunteers, (and giving kudos to the sole male volunteer) that fuel Pink Pearl Foundation. From across southern Ontario, these young professionals dedicate an abundance of time and energy to plan, organize, and execute the organization’s suite of support programs, as well as its annual fundraising events that have generated over $250,000 to date.

Many balance their volunteer role with demanding careers, family life, and post-secondary education. Some even balance volunteering with an ongoing cancer battle…

It’s true. Pink Pearl has recently hired two of its program participants in volunteer positions.

Maddie Jenkins (24) was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia a month before her 20th birthday, resulting in multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, and an eventual stem cell transplant. Today, Maddie’s health is well; she’s working to attain her degree in Honours Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University; and is paying it forward as a Partnerships Advisor with the Foundation.

“I chose to volunteer for Pink Pearl after participating in my first retreat. We were encouraged to discuss anything and everything in an environment free from judgment. I jumped at the chance to help more young women living with cancer to feel a sense of community and empowerment about their journey in the same way I did,” said Maddie.

It’s no surprise that Pink Pearl’s program participants are eager to take action as volunteers. With Founder Elise Gasbarrino (32) at the helm leading by example, you can’t help but be inspired.

While undergoing ovarian cancer treatment in her early twenties, Elise felt certain elements were missing from her experience—a way to connect with women her age facing the same issues, and a means for them to conquer their issues together. Her fire and passion sparked Pink Pearl Foundation’s grassroots cancer support movement, and it deeply resonates with its volunteers, program participants, partners, and supporters.

Elise efficiently balances the widespread needs of the Foundation with her career in fashion, family and friends, travelling, and maintaining good health. Her leadership style is recognized by the team as consistently positive and supportive. She encourages two-way communication, creativity, and fun among her volunteers, resulting in high morale and commitment levels. More than half of volunteers have worked alongside Elise since Pink Pearl’s launch.

“Elise has created a culture where people want to commit, so they do,” said Bianca Ciccarelli, Pink Pearl Foundation’s Vice-President of People (28).

Between January and April each year, volunteer hours and enthusiasm spike as Pink Pearl gears up for its annual fundraising event, Black & White with a Touch of Pink. On Friday, April 7, the in-house Events Team will present a top-tier evening designed to create a network of support, raise funds and spread awareness about the Foundation.

“Our major fundraiser each spring is planned and executed entirely by young female volunteers from our Events, Marketing and People committees. Thanks to these ladies who work together around the clock, we’re able to create an unforgettable evening for our program participants, supporters and volunteers,” said Courtney McNamara, Pink Pearl Foundation’s Vice-President of Events and Fundraising (32).

Pink Pearl Foundation invites YOU to attend its one-of-a-kind Black & White with a Touch of Pink at The Great Hall in Toronto. CTV News Toronto Health Reporter, Pauline Chan, will host the evening, with live musical entertainment by The Doubts and DJ Pierre Bois spinning vinyl. Enjoy an open bar; food stations by local downtown restaurants; an opportunity to bid on silent auction items; win incredible prizes; and take home a complimentary Live-Clean gift bag. To purchase tickets, please visit: bit.ly/blackandwhite17.

With plans in motion to grow its cancer support programming and geographic reach, Pink Pearl Foundation is also excited to grow its dynamic volunteer team. For all volunteer opportunities (including one-night volunteer positions at Black & White with a Touch of Pink), please visit: pinkpearlfoundation.org/get-involved/.

Touch the lives of young women living with cancer by making a donation to Pink Pearl Foundation: pinkpearlfoundation.org/donate/.


Contributor: Laura Blinkhorn
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Photo: Nataschia Wielink Photography & Tino Berardi Photography

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