Pink Zone support groups personify event’s impact

John Patishnock
February 17, 2015

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in AlumnInsider, the Penn State Alumni Association's monthly member e-newsletter.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The way Ann C. ‘Nan’ Crouter describes the party — and it is a party — everyone is welcomed and encouraged to attend.

Crouter, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development, co-hosts a pre-game reception prior to the Lady Lions’ annual Pink Zone Game every year. The College of Health and Human Development and the College of Nursing partner to host the event, which allows colleagues to see one another socially amid a busy academic year.

“The purpose of it really is fellowship,” Crouter said, “to have an opportunity to see each other and to have the annual ritual of getting together.”

But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Crouter, herself a breast cancer survivor, said everyone from babies to older adults attends the reception, with alumni an ever-growing group that shows up. Faculty and staff members, along with students, also are there. Crouter meets with student leaders and encourages them to get the word out, saying, “We really have a lot of people represented at that reception.”

She said there aren’t any lectures, categorizing the reception as a social event, and one that’s prone to having special guests — the Nittany Lion and football coach James Franklin stopped by last year.

Much like the Pink Zone — an annual event to support breast cancer held during a Lady Lions basketball game — the reception has grown every year. This year’s annual game is Sunday, March 1, scheduled for tip-off at 2 p.m. The Lady Lions will host Wisconsin and BTN will broadcast the game.

Of course, the game will feature the annual halftime tradition of cancer survivors coming together on the court. Participants describe the moment in different ways. It’s an emotional time for nearly everyone, with people in the stands crying and survivors on the court looking out at a darkened arena that shimmers with glow sticks.

“That is quite an experience — I always feel quite celebratory,” Crouter said. “It’s been over 15 years since I went through all that, and it's a reminder that I’m so fortunate. I always come out of that reception, and the game and halftime feeling up, and it’s good to have that as we're plowing through the end of winter.”

“It’s hard to describe,” added Eileen Rodgers-Hayden. “When you walk out there and the lights are out, you see all the pink glowing and people literally latch onto each other. If you didn't have a sister before you went out there, now someone has their arm around you.”

Rodgers-Hayden and Kathy Clinton formed Lehigh Valley Sole Sistas, a support group that began a few years ago. Rodgers-Hayden said the organization provides a chance for people in that area to come together, something she and Clinton didn’t notice before. The two volunteered at a hospital, but they were seeking a social component so they created the group.

Lehigh Valley Sole Sistas started participating in walks together, with Rodgers-Hayden saying the group does “whatever it takes now to get people together,” including attending Pink Zone. This year marks Rodgers-Hayden's fifth trip to Pink Zone, and the group’s fourth.

They went from chartering one bus to two, and Rodgers-Hayden said she expects overflow from the two buses they have this year. She and the group have met a lot of people through networking, and they’ve connected with people from the Poconos and Bucks County.

Rodgers-Hayden considers the group a long-term endeavor, saying Lehigh Valley Sole Sistas is still in its infancy stage, and Pink Zone representing an annual high-water event.

“This is the highlight of our year,” she said. “The first year, I went with two friends and just loved it. I was on the floor at halftime and didn't know one single person. Now, it’s amazing. I'm down there and I know women from all over the place. It's an awesome feeling, but literally, the first year, I didn't know anybody. That’s how alone you feel when you’re first diagnosed.”

Pink Zone has grown not just in impact, but also in numbers. About 30 survivors gathered at halftime during the first year. Last year, more than 700 came together.

Crouter and Rodgers-Hayden highlight some reasons why: the great work and passion of people behind the scenes — including Executive Director Miriam Powell and board members — and the atmosphere on game day, among others. As Rogers-Hayden said, “Once you meet the people who are behind it, you know why it’s as good as it is.”

Crouter was one of the first members of the board of directors and became involved with Pink Zone shortly after it started. She helped write bylaws and oversaw the committee formation; Powell was hired early on, as well.

More recently, Crouter said Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington’s background and motivation for helping the event has helped propel Pink Zone even further. As Crouter pointed out, Washington has a law degree, which helped as Pink Zone applied for nonprofit status.

Like the reception, Crouter said that the Pink Zone Game is for everyone. It draws attention to a critically important health issue while allowing families to simultaneously celebrate being together and also support the Lady Lions. 

“I'm very gratified by it,” Crouter said of Pink Zone’s continued success. “I think it's the product of so many different things — the passion of Miriam Powell and board members, they are just so determined to make it a success. Also, breast cancer is something that touches so many people’s lives. Unfortunately, it's relatively common. Either people experience it themselves or they have a close relative or friend who has. There's so much more openness in today’s society, so that when it happens to people, they're more likely to talk about it.”

To donate to Pink Zone, click here. You can also connect with Pink Zone through its Facebook page and Twitter feed.

To purchase tickets for the game, click here or call 800-NITTANY. Once again, Fullington Trailways will offer free rides to the game from various locations across the state as will a host of other companies. For more information on transportation options, click here.

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    Ann C. "Nan" Crouter, right, co-hosts a pre-game reception prior to the Lady Lions’ annual Pink Zone Game every year. The College of Health and Human Development and the College of Nursing partner to host the event, which allows colleagues to see one another socially amid a busy academic year. Last year, head football coach James Franklin stopped by, and he's pictured with Paula Milone-Nuzzo, dean of College of Nursing, left, and Crouter, right. 

    IMAGE: College of Health and Human Development

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated February 19, 2015