Gratitude for Project Pink donations still felt around Christmastime

(L-R) Madi Thompson, Latesha Arnold, Kaytlynn McElroy. Photo provided.

By Joey McWilliams

DURANT – The Durant High School cheerleaders have been selling Project Pink T-Shirts each fall during football season since 2008.

The cheerleaders design the shirts, sell them and collect the money and then have a part in deciding where that money goes.

It is likely that people around Bryan County may have seen the shirts at a football game or worn around town. However, it is less likely that someone has seen what has followed the sales and the benefit that has come from the purchase of a fun item.

Latesha Arnold, office manager at S & L Collision in Durant and a member of the DHS Class of 2000, said she would like to publicly say thanks to the cheerleaders and make people aware of the blessing she has received from them and from people buying those shirts.

Arnold said she was informed this fall by one of the cheerleaders that she had been selected to be a recipient of one of their donations from their T-shirts sales for cancer awareness, something very important to her after news she had received the year before.

“In July 2016, I found out that I had cancer and found out the extent of it after one surgery in August 2016 that I would have to go through major surgery, chemo and radiation,” Arnold said. “So for them to be able to donate some of their funds to me to help with medical expenses, especially now that it’s around Christmas time, because not only from 2016 through 2017 and now in 2018, I’ll have deductibles and co-pay and during chemo radiation I had lots of hotel stays because all my treatments were in Dallas five days a week. So it helped me from having to drive so much to actually stay in the hotel room. And obviously that was out-of-pocket expense, the insurance didn’t pay for that.”

Approximately $25,000 has been donated through this fundraiser in the past nine years and most of the money has been given to local recipients.

DHS cheerleader sponsor Lou Ann Lively, who is the Health Science I teacher at the high school, said this is a big task.

“We started this in 2008, that was my daughter’s senior year,” Lively said. “They decided they wanted to do a ‘cat fight.’ So we contacted Harrah High School cheerleading coach, and their cheerleaders and our cheerleaders sold T-shirts and we had the exact same design on the shirts. And we said it’s a cat fight against cancer.

That year, we sold enough T-shirts that we had $2,500 and we sent that to the Susan G. Komen Center. And so it is a tradition. For the past nine years, that’s what we’ve done. The girls design the shirts. They sell them. They get them in and deliver the T-shirts.”

In recent years, they have kept the money local. Lively said she gives them ideas of people in the community who may have  cancer and they help to decide where the money goes.

One year, the money went to the hospital to help assist with mammograms.

“Because of HIPAA, it is hard to let people know who has received money,” Lively said. “This year, they sold 800 shirts. We had $3,800 dollars, so we got to donate to six people.

“And we also have donated the last three years to the Durant Intermediate School. We’re donating $1,000 toward their Camp Goddard students who can’t afford to go or who can’t pay the whole price. We do this in memory of Lori Bourne. The cheerleaders want to do that because she was one of their teachers.”

Lori Bourne, who passed in 2013, coached and taught history, science and math at Washington Irving and DIS.

Most of the recipients are associated with Durant Public Schools, including former students, parents, teachers, cafeteria workers and Camp Goddard attendees.

Hannah Morrison, DHS senior and four-year cheerleader, said doing Project Pink and having the opportunity to help like this is rewarding and  means a lot to the cheerleaders.

“We know that we’re helping out people in our community who are suffering from cancer,” Morrison said. “When you’re going through something like that, the least of your worries should be how to pay for the treatments you need and we just want to offer them some money as a way to show them we’re supporting them through their battle.”

Arnold said people always hear of how fundraisers like this helps people nationally, but to for this to have such a local effect, especially in her hometown, made her feel good.

“I don’t think they understand how much that actually did mean to me and my family for them to do such a fundraiser and for the community to go and purchase these shirts knowing that they were going to help somebody in their community,” Arnold said.

“I wanted to tell the cheerleaders and Coach Lively thank you for doing it, from the bottom of my heart. This year, I did get to hear the word ‘remission.’ I can’t say ‘cancer-free’ for five years – I was told that by a doctor.

“I am thankfully in remission. But with that, I do have radiation damage. I go to physical therapy several times a week and I have continued appointments in Dallas every few months, so I will have to start over with medical deductibles again this year. And what they did helps a whole lot.”

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