For Our Daughters Inc. has reached over 1,000 young women in Western New York so far this year with breast cancer education and awareness. Founder and breast cancer survivor, Mercedes Wilson, started the organization in 2012 with the goal of opening up the floor for discussion about women’s health — beginning with young women in college and high school.
The organization recently voted in updated versions of its vision and mission to include an element emphasizing empowerment. The vision now reads, “A world where young women feel confident, empowered and their voices are heard.”
The organization’s mission is “Empowering young women to break down communication barriers and become advocates for their own health and wellness.”
Cindi McEachon, board secretary, explained that this addition was particularly important to her as a mother with two daughters. “For me, that empowerment is really understanding and owning your own body,” she said, explaining that she wants her daughters to be able to speak freely about their health.
For Our Daughters has been running the Diamond program in schools in the Buffalo area for some time, working with physical education departments to reach young women in the area and inform them about breast cancer.
Wilson said the Diamond program is set around an analogy; diamonds have to endure under extreme pressure before emerging as beautiful, strong stones. This program not only informs, but opens up discussion and gives young women a forum in which to talk about their own struggles with cancer in themselves or loved ones.
“We actually just broke into Niagara County this past summer and we went to Gaskill (Preparatory School in Niagara Falls),” Wilson said. The program has also reached Lewiston-Porter High School where they were met with particularly eager students.
“The young ladies really took it and ran with it and they’re looking forward to us coming back,” she said. “They also want to start something where they can go into the middle schools and help out with it and really mentor the young ladies. So out of all the schools I would say Lewiston really took the bull by the horns and we’re developing something with them where they can learn and then mentor other young ladies.”
She said with this new development, it may be possible to start similar mentoring programs with other schools, as well.
Ethel Dapollo, the organization’s president, said she was surprised to hear how many of these young women had breast cancer touch their lives in some way.
“A lot of young women don’t speak on it,” she said, explaining that the number of breast cancer victims among African American women was particularly high in comparison to women of other races. “It was really an eye-opener,” she said. “This is where we need to be.”
The organization had its first health fair this year and will be hosting its fourth annual Breast Cancer Gala on Oct. 30 in Buffalo to raise funds for programming. The gala will be a formal suit-and-gown event, and Claudine Ewing, a news anchor for WGRZ-TV, will emcee. All proceeds from the event will benefit cancer-related charities such as Roswell Park, Ronald McDonald House and Carly’s Club.
In the future, Wilson said she hopes to make more connections with schools in Niagara County to reach more young women in the area and that another trip to Lew-Port is in the works. To these women, conversation is crucial to empowering young women and giving them the information they need to care for themselves. Deidra Duell, interim treasurer, said sometimes it can be difficult to begin conversations with women about their health.
“I think that some people are just scared,” Duell said. “I think they just don’t want to know. They figure if they don’t go and no one tells them, they don’t know and they don’t have to deal with it. It’s sad, but a lot of people have that attitude.” She explained that joining this fight has brought out a passion for the cause in her.
“Girls want to talk about what’s going on in their world,” she said. “I think when you make a safe and comfortable environment for them to speak, they’re able to do that more freely.”
• WHAT: Breast Cancer Gala
• WHEN: 6 to 10 p.m. Oct. 30
• WHERE: Buffalo Convention Center.