The face of cancer has changed and when a young woman receives the news that she has been diagnosed with the disease, it is not only frightening, but bewildering as she seeks support from among her peers.

The Pink Pearl Foundation, the vision of Thorold native Elise Gasbarrino who was diagnosed with cancer while still in University has not only raised money and awareness but it also has helped create the support network the young women of today so desperately need when they receive news of their disease.

The following is an  interview with Courtney McNamara of Pink Pearl Foundation who talks about the organization itself as well as the amazing fundraiser coming up at the Distillery District in Toronto.

What is your history with Pink Pearl Foundation?

I joined Pink Pearl just over 2 years ago when my good friend, Elise, founded the organization.  Elise was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while we were in University and has been working ever since to turn her experience into something positive for other people. I just knew I had to be a part of it. Now I manage our 2 major annual events – “Black & White with a touch of pink” which we are hosting at Airship37 this year, and “One Fine Day” which is held in the summer and encourages our supporters to host their own events in support of Pink Pearl, all on the same day!


airship37 pink pearl foundation

The branding and presentation of Pink Pearl Foundation is very unique. It is very stylized, fresh and positive and is devoid of a clinical look that you may find in the health sector. What is the idea behind the branding?

Thanks for noticing! That’s exactly what we are going for… Our organization addresses the non-medical, emotional side of being a young women who is facing cancer. That was the thing that Elise really missed when she was undergoing treatment so it’s the gap that we aim to fill. Pink Pearl is a peer-support organization for women facing cancer, but it is also about celebrating and enjoying the preciousness of life. We hope that comes through in the brand.

PINK PEARL FOUNDATIONWhat function does this upcoming event at Airship37 event play within the framework of the work Pink Pearl Foundation does? 

“Black & White with a touch of pink” is our biggest fundraiser of the year and ultimately enables us to run our programs. It’s also such a great opportunity for us to get together with our supporters, participants and friends of the organization for a really fun night! The event name is meant to represent that we can be the “touch of pink” inside the black & white of the medical process surrounding cancer treatment. Elise started the event 9 years ago in the Niagara region, but this is the second consecutive year that we are bringing it to Toronto!
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Photo 3: Pink Pearl Foundation volunteers celebrate the 8th Annual Black and White with a Touch
of Pink fundraising gala at Twist Gallery in Torronto on April 9, 2014.
What are some of the signature programs that Pink Pearl has developed? 
Our signature initiative is our weekend retreat program. These are held regionally and allow groups of 15- 20 women to connect with each other and participate in a number of wellness activities like yoga, hiking and group discussions. We also facilitate ask-the-expert sessions during the retreats and as stand-alone programs.  This year, we have launched a really special program that distributes “in-hospital support packages” to women at the point of diagnosis. The packages include an introduction to our organization, valuable resources and a support bracelet to help show her that she is not alone.  We’ve partnered with GEMM accessories who provides the bracelets. For every support bracelet purchased, one is donated to one of these young women. They will be on sale at our event which will really help us expand this program!
pink pearl foundation at airship37
pink pearl at airship37 support
How does social media play a part in building awareness for Pink Pearl Foundation? 
Social media is a huge part of our marketing efforts and we have so many amazing followers! We have found our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram networks to be a hugely valuable and effective way for us to connect with our participants and our supporters. If you don’t follow us already, please do at pinkpearlfdn! 

Does Pink Pearl Foundation brave relationships with other non-profits it works in conjunction with?

Absolutely. Partnerships have played a significant role in our success. The organization actually grew from a relationship with The Juravinski Cancer Center where Elise received her treatment. They have been so supportive in enabling our programs within the hospital and connecting us with great resources. We also work closely with Wellwood, Wellspring and Walker Cancer Center which are amazing non-profits that also provide support and resources for patients and their families. We are always looking to connect with other like-minded organizations and believe partnering only makes us stronger.

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Pink Pearl Foundation volunteers celebrate the One Fine Day fundraising event at Honsberger Estate in Jordan Station on August 10, 2014.
Pink Pearl Foundation relies heavily on volunteers to run its programs and fundraise. How does the organization attract engaged volunteers and how does it keep them engaged? 
That’s right – we are 100% volunteer-run which makes us really proud.  It also allows us to put all of the money raised towards our programs as we have no staffing costs at this point. Simply put, we could not run this organization without our 30 amazing, dedicated volunteers and we really cherish the role they play in the organization. We focus on providing a meaningful and rewarding experience for everyone who is involved with Pink Pearl and that keeps our team coming back every year.  It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to have the impact that we have and I think our volunteers really feel that.
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 (from left to right): Vanessa Sheppard, Development Officer, Business and Community Engagement, Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre Foundation; Dr. Punam Rana, Medical Oncologist, Juravinski Cancer Centre; Elise Gasbarrino, Founder, Pink Pearl Foundation; Monique LaPlante, Program Participant, Pink Pearl Foundation; and Sierra Collins, Program Participant, Pink Pearl Foundation.
What direction would the Pink Pearl Foundation like to go in the upcoming year? 
We are so excited to keep expanding our programs across Canada. We believe we have a model that works and that the impact we have on the individual is truly unique. We are now focussed on expanding our programs and reach beyond the GTA and Niagara regions. Right now, we are busy planning our fundraiser and can’t wait for Black & White with a touch of Pink on April 17!
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Let us know what you think!