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Sisters on a Journey group raising funds for cancer research

In 2003, Catie Wilkins, the daughter of Effingham County residents Tre and Jenny Wilkins, was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer called medullablastoma.

During Catie’s journey, the family learned that Tre’s cousin, Bailey, passed away from the same type of cancer twenty years prior. The Wilkins were astonished to learn that there had been no progress in research in two decades and Catie would receive the exact same treatment that had been given to Bailey. Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t work for Catie, either.

After Catie’s passing, Tre and Jenny couldn’t bear to think of another twenty years passing with no improvements to offer other families and decided they had to do something.

CURE Childhood Cancer was an organization that was helpful to the Wilkins throughout Catie’s journey. The Wilkins liked the fact that CURE not only funds pediatric cancer research, they also serve the patients and families going through the rigors of treatment.

The Wilkins set up a named fund through CURE called Catie’s Fund, which is committed to raising funds to support CURE’s research grants. 

The family tried fundraising through golf tournaments and sporting events, but they just hadn’t found the event that would propel them forward.

In 2011, Jenny and a friend were brainstorming for new fundraising ideas and decided to try a women’s dinner event. They wanted to solicit women as table hostesses who would invite friends, decorate their tables, and enjoy an evening of dinner for a great cause.

Their idea was to name the event, “Sisters on a Journey” referring to all the friends, family members, fellow cancer moms, nurses, co-workers, and community members who supported the Wilkins throughout their journey.

The first Sisters on a Journey dinner was held in the social hall of an Effingham County church. About 150 women attended and raised a total of $5,000. Encouraged by this success, Jenny and Tre decided to do it again.

Each year since 2011, Sisters on a Journey has experienced significant growth.

 Jenny now has a team of about twelve volunteers that serves on a planning committee for the Effingham County dinner.

The growth was so significant that in 2013, Jenny partnered up with CURE’s Patient and Family Services Manager, Mandy Garola, to duplicate the event in Savannah.

One of the things that sets Sisters on a Journey apart from other fundraising events is that the table hostesses elaborately decorate their tables. Many groups even attend dressed in attire to match their table theme.

Last year, the event expanded to Statesboro, and the three dinners raised a combined $225,000 for research through CURE.

The event continues to grow. A group of women who attended in 2016 are planning to add a fourth Sisters on a Journey event in Bryan County in the fall of 2017.

This year’s event in Effingham County welcomed more than 650 guests, supporters, and more nearly 100 volunteers to Effingham County High School for an eye-opening evening of fun.

Just walking around the room to take in the tables was entertaining in itself.

The evening included many ways for party goers to support the cause: silent and live auctions, raffle giveaways, and a half-and-half raffle.

The crowd enjoyed music from the worship team of Compassion Christian Effingham and heard from pediatric cancer survivor, Maci Varnell.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Kristine Bothwell. Her daughter, Ella, passed away after her battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an aggressive pediatric brain tumor.

Kristine shared some hard truths with the audience that drove home the need for better treatments for children fighting cancer.

The fact that only three new drugs have been approved since 1980 for use in children with cancer is startling. Kristine also shared that The National Cancer Institute directs less than 4% of its funding at childhood cancer and many of the large cancer organizations direct less than a penny from every dollar earned to childhood cancer research.

These alarming facts make CURE Childhood Cancer vital to the effort to fund research that will increase survival rates for children and leave fewer long-term side effects.

Effingham’s Sisters on a Journey dinner concluded with an exciting live auction emceed by Lonnie Pate and auctioneer, Kenny Williams. 

This year’s Effingham County event raised more than $112,000. With Savannah’s total of over $100,000, the team hopes the Statesboro event will push them over the quarter of a million dollar mark for this spring’s events.

 These events are definitely a community effort that proves just what we can do when everyone comes together for a cause in which they believe.  Change will come.