In 2009, the Palisade High School (PHS) volleyball team started raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness and in 2017 those funds became the seed money for the Aspen Fund – a specific account within the Family Health West Foundation (a non-profit organization supporting the Family Health West hospital & clinics). The awareness, education, and team spirit born out of this annual endeavor is here to stay.
The reality of the statistics of breast cancer wasn’t lost on Kyla McClary, a PHS senior and volleyball player. “Based on the statistics and number of players on the team, it means one of us will get breast cancer,” she said.
For more than a decade the PHS volleyball team has held a pink match in October, capitalizing on the hometown audience and the monthly designation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each team player solicits and collects donations, and plays in honor of a person with breast cancer (or in memory of someone who had battled breast cancer) during the ‘pink match’ game. This year, many of the players held tight to the spirit of multiple people affected by breast cancer that the players knew personally. The fight for the players was personal said the seniors, and emphasized by the team’s head coach.
“Sometimes there is more than one person they want to play in honor of,” PHS volleyball head coach, Wendy MacAskill said.
“We all play in honor of someone with breast cancer,” Ella Yanowich, a PHS senior and volleyball player said. “Knowing someone with breast cancer and raising money that makes a difference (locally) for people…” is really meaningful.
In 2017, the volleyball team presented the Aspen Fund with a $2,500 donation, with the help of some fund matching by a local physician and Rocky Mountain Health Foundation that first donation of $2,500, turned into $10,000 and the official birth of the Aspen Fund. This year, the team raised $3,600 for the Aspen Fund. Since 2017, the team has raised more than $14,000 overall for the Aspen Fund to date.
“What we (as a team) have done has made a difference over the years,” Yanowich said. “And we keep making a difference.”
McClary’s tactic for fundraising this year was to solicit donations from family and friends, but also local businesses. The effort of outreach and fundraising by the players has a secondary benefit that MacAskill points out – it increases awareness not just for the girls, but their families and the school at large, as well as our community who support the players in their fundraising effort. This event sticks in their head as they move through life, MacAskill said about the players.
“Coaching is about making an impact on kids,” MacAskill said. “This is the personal way we do that.”
More about the Aspen Fund: The Aspen Fund was created around 2017 when Dr. Michael Neste, Radiology Medical Director at Family Health West, the radiology staff, and the Palisade High School volleyball team players partnered up to raise money to directly impact Breast Cancer. By establishing the Aspen Fund through the FHW Foundation, the FHW radiology staff can request financial assistance on a case by case basis for radiology patients who are uninsured or underinsured.
Early detection and annual mammograms are the first line of defense for successfully treating breast cancer. As radiology staff work with patients on service costs, the patient is responsible for half of the cost of the needed procedures/services, and funds from the Aspen Fund would cover the other half of the cost(s). If additional tests or procedures are needed for the underinsured and uninsured patient, the Aspen Fund may offset additional costs as funds are available in the account.
Since 2017, 50 patients have had access to early detection and screenings for breast cancer because of the financial assistance through the Aspen Fund. Michelle Angelo, FHW Radiology Director, feels gratitude when offering a patient financial assistance when needed. These funds give patients health screenings and testing that save their lives, Angelo said.