Each year, Soroptimist International of Valencia has hosted its annual Bras for a Cause event, raising more than $380,000 for breast cancer in the event’s 17-year history.
“Every year, it gets bigger and better,” said Laura Chesler, director of membership and co-chair of the event. “Last year, the event was the biggest it’s ever been. We had 300 people at the Hyatt, with live models and live auction baskets going for thousands of dollars, and it was just amazing.”
In their 17th year, a pandemic hit, forcing them to reconsider the event entirely.
“At the end of the day, we knew that just because there’s a pandemic, breast cancer does not stop, and there are women in our community that still really need our help,” Chesler added. “We’ve all been affected by breast cancer in one way or another … and it’s very personal for us.”
The Soroptimist ladies quickly got together, thinking outside of the box to create an event worthy of its cause and calling it, “17 Years of Support.”
“It was challenging,” Chesler said. “We kept reimagining the event. We had to be very sensitive twofold: to the pandemic, making sure we’re in compliance with county and city (regulations), but also we know how hard our community was hit, and we didn’t want to come with asks and expectations of large sponsorships and expensive tickets. … so we decided to go a little smaller maybe, but still put our hearts into it and raise as much money as we could.”
Proceeds from the fundraiser go toward Soroptimist’s Dream It, Be It and Live Your Dream programs, which offer support for women and girls in the community, as well as a large portion donated to help fund breast cancer awareness, according to Chesler.
This year’s benefactors were the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Center at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and Circle of Hope, a nonprofit organization in Santa Clarita that provides educational, emotional and financial services to those with cancer in the community.
Each day leading up to the main event, 17 silent auction baskets and handmade themed bras were released, one for each year of the event, accompanied by a video featuring the basket maker discussing what inspired them and how it’ll help the community.
“People started looking forward to those videos, and I think it helped them connect and want to bid more than if it was just a long list of items,” Chesler added.
The event culminated in a pickup dinner provided by Wolf Creek Brewery and Restaurant, and participants then returned home to watch a pre-recorded video online, filled with messages from the event’s chairs and benefactors, with special guests, including a breast cancer survivor and Dr. Dortha Chu, a surgical oncologist for breast cancer at City of Hope.
“I wish I could tell you what foods to avoid or what activities to do so that you won’t get breast cancer and won’t be that 1-in-8 women who get breast cancer, I can’t do that, yet,” Chu said in the video, “but I can say that we’re much better at detecting breast cancer, and our best tool is that annual mammogram. Once a year, it’s a ritual that we all should go through, and if you are 40 years or older, this is something that I would encourage every woman to do. Once a year, get your mammogram, whether you have symptoms or not.”
Participants also heard from Laura Kirchhoff, executive director at Circle of Hope, who later shared how honored and grateful she is about being able to partner with the Soroptimists.
“It is their ongoing generosity that helps Circle of Hope provide the financial assistance needed to women who are unable to afford their cancer treatments and pay for their co-pays, deductibles, surgeries, chemo treatments and cancer medications,” Kirchhoff added. “Women are also able to benefit from the numerous wellness therapies that are available to them not only while going through treatment but also afterward as a survivor. Soroptimist’s support of Circle of Hope has made such a positive difference in the lives of so many women in our community and we will be forever grateful.”
Following the event, Soroptimists discovered they had exceeded their revenue goal of $20,000, a modest goal considering the circumstances.
“We are so happy,” Chesler said. “I am so proud of my fellow Soroptimist members because we all had a big task, and we wanted to do it well, yet be respectful of the community. We knew we could not let the people suffering from breast cancer down — we had to do something — and everybody came together. I’m very proud of this event.”