The unexpected rain Sunday morning did little to dampen the spirits of this year’s Walk for Women participants, as more than 1,000 women, children, men, and animals walked, jogged, and ran from the South Padre Island Convention Center to Louie’s Backyard to support the event and raise money for area residents affected by breast cancer. The annual free walk was the culmination of a weekend-long affair that began with a casino night on Friday and included a bay fishing tournament on Saturday.
This is the 11th year of the event, with the first occurring in 2002. The walk was not held in 2008 due to Hurricane Dolly. Margie Swartz, one of the originators of the event, reminisced about that first walk.
“Our friend Jayanna Enholm had been diagnosed with breast cancer and we wanted to raise money to help her. We walked to Jake’s Restaurant, with some of us stopping along the way at the Coral Reef,” she joked. “We were amazed, more than 300 people showed up and we raised $20,000. We even had a mobile mammogram vehicle come to the event.”
That first recipient, breast cancer survivor Jayanna Enholm, spoke about what her friends did for her in her time of need. “This is the year I’ve been able to talk about it without crying. It’s very emotional. These women all have busy lives and families and they don’t get paid – you have no idea how hard these girls work. There are now over 100 volunteers for this event – it’s incredible.”
One of those hard-working volunteers is long time local resident Mary Jo Camp, who generously donates her time to many charitable organizations on South Padre Island. She has been in charge of merchandising for the WFW since 2009, and spoke about her reasons for supporting the event. “What I like about it is that the money stays in the Valley, it doesn’t go to some big corporation. Women in the Valley need to know that, if they’re struggling financially and they need help, the need to contact the WFW. There’s an application form and some paperwork to fill out, but we’re here to help you. Not enough women know we’re her to help them.”
The SPI Walk for Women is a non-profit corporation that promotes breast cancer awareness in the Rio Grande Valley. Their mission is to help women battling breast cancer with financial, prosthetic and diagnostic support. It was initially created by a group of local women to heighten breast cancer awareness and raise money for area residents affected by breast cancer. Their aim is to educate about the importance of self-examination and offer assistance to patients, their families, and the public. Leslie Blasing, local entertainer, appeared on Good Day Valley on KFXV-TV to promote the event and encourage the public to come out and support the cause. “This disease touches everybody – there’s not a person I know who isn’t affected in some way, whether it’s a mother, sister, aunt, someone, a friend – this has touched every person’s life we know.”
The walk is a no-cost event, but donations are encouraged and appreciated at any time. This year’s event had over 100 business, personal, and anonymous sponsors. WFW T-shirts and hats can be purchased year-round at Whiskers and Things on Padre Blvd., with all the proceeds going to the organization. Cheryl Hill, president of the non-profit group, said the event just gets bigger every year. “We don’t have official numbers yet, but we’re probably between 1,000 and 1,200 participants this year, looks like a really big turnout. We had around 25 boats in the fishing tournament as well.” When asked how she came to be president, she quipped, “I think I was fiddling with my phone when they asked for a volunteer and everybody else stepped back!” she laughed. All joking aside, Cheryl and countless others worked tirelessly for months to make the yearly fundraiser another success. WFW also sponsors a Chili Cook-Off in February to raise money as well, so mark your calendars and come out for a great cause and some great chili.
For information about making a donation, applying for assistance, or entering in the chili cook-off, visit the WFW website at www.spiwalkforwomen.org or call 956-491-8277.