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Thursday October 23rd 2014

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On a Krewesade to Find a Cure

Local Mardi Gras Krewe Paints the Town Pink
by Jennifer Leigh

When you’re in the Krewe du YaYas, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month all year long.

“A bunch of our founding sisters wanted to create some sort of sisterhood that gives back,” said Jacqui O’Connell, president and one of the six remaining members of the original krewe.

Now in its 11th year, the Krewe du YaYas has been raising funds and awareness in the Pensacola area at events year-round. From the annual Making Strides walk to Relay for Life to, yes, Mardi Gras, the 150 krewe members have been turning the town pink and having fun while doing it.

“The pink wigs and tiaras have become our trademark,” O’Connell said. “There is a whole section of YaYa clothing in my closet along with the bling that goes with it. We have a lot of fun when we are out in the community.”

While events do a good job of turning heads and raising awareness, the krewe also provides an important service to men and women in need. In 2010, the krewe’s charity Keeping Abreast Foundation officially became a 501(c)3 non-profit. Through funds raised and partnerships with The Women’s Group and Angel Williamson, Krewe du YaYa provides mammograms to women and men who can’t afford them. The krewe also shows their support to the community by assisting with the purchases of wigs and mastectomy bras, medications, and supporting families in crisis.

“A lot of people fall through the cracks, those who don’t have insurance, but perhaps make too much money to require assistance,” O’Connell explained.

The krewe has actually assisted a male with funding for a mammogram in the past. On top of that, they’ve recently begun working with breast cancer patients and their families through their grant assistance program to help offset the costly bill of a cancer diagnosis.

“All of the money we raise goes toward our fund,” O’Connell said. “It’s rewarding to see your money spent well.”

The choice to dedicate time and money toward breast cancer awareness was a personal one for O’Connell. Her mother, a breast cancer survivor, passed away in 2007 after battling lung cancer.

“Even if you’re not a survivor, everyone has some sort of connection to breast cancer,” she said.

O’Connell was in her 30s when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Knowing her family history, O’Connell took the necessary precautions and began getting mammograms 10 years earlier than the recommended age of 40.

“I had to go through a million hoops to get it approved,” she said. “It’s important to know my mammogram is covered. To this day it’s my most dreaded appointment.”

In the Krewe du YaYas early years, membership was capped at 125 before moving to its current size of 150 women. Members have to be nominated and are required to participate in at least a few events throughout the year. These dedicated members end up forming long-lasting bonds.

“I know that we are a group with a purpose, but on many levels the friendships that I have formed are as important to me as the reasons that I became involved in the first place,” O’Connell said. “Some of these women have become my very best friends here and hold a very special place in my heart.”

The women also extend that bond to their families, often recruiting husbands and children to participate and help at events.

“A lot of husbands play in the One Stroke Closer to a Cure golf tournament — I know I wouldn’t forgive my husband if he didn’t play,” O’Connell joked. “And my entire family is training for the I Pink I Can Run in February.”

While helping others is the heart and soul of the Krewe du YaYas, sharing the experiences is what keeps members returning every year.

“They’re everything to me,” O’Connell said of her fellow krewe. “When you share a passion, it’s a really special thing.”

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Krewe du YaYas Saving the TaTas
Be sure to catch the Krewe at these upcoming events. For more information on Krewe du YaYas, visit kreweduyayas.com.

MAKING STRIDES OF PENSACOLA
WHEN: 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 26
WHERE: Cordova Mall, 5100 N. 9th Ave.
DETAILS: makingstrides.acsevents.org

SNOWBALL DERBY
WHEN: December 4-8
WHERE: Five Flags Speedway, 7451 Pine Forest Road
DETAILS: 5flagsspeedway.com

I PINK I CAN RUN
WHEN: 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8
WHERE: Flora Bama Lounge and Package, 17401 Perdido Key Drive
DETAILS: kreweduyayas.com

SAVE THE BOOBERS FISHING TOURNAMENT
WHEN: May 9-10
WHERE: Holiday Harbor Marina, 14050 Canal A Way, Perdido Key
DETAILS: savetheboobers.com