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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

It's All Done With Jeans: "Denim Day" Fundraiser Battles Cancer

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, October 06, 2006

from left, Hoosac Bank employee Jennifer Richard and Assistant Branch Manager Kelly L.M. Dubie accept a $50 cash donation from North Adams resident Christopher Gillooly as part of an Oct. 6 Lee Jeans "National Denim Day" cancer fundraiser.
Call it "casual Friday for a cause and cure."

Over 100 MountainOne Financial Group partner business employees abandoned their conservative skirts, dresses and trousers on Oct. 6 and wore jeans to work as part of a Lee "National Denim Day" event that raises money to fund research and awareness of breast cancer as well as cancers that target women.

Participating employees made a minimum $5 contribution in exchange for the temporary easing of the financial group's strict workday dress code. Those who wore jeans to work were given a cancer fact sheet, a pink breast cancer awareness pin, pink M&M's candies, and a certificate of participation and thanks.


from left, Hoosac Bank customer service representatives Kristen LaFleur, Tyna Burda, and Jennifer Meaney were among the MountainOne Financial Group holding company business employees who donated $5 for the chance to wear jeans to work. The fundraiser was brought to the attention of company officials by LaFleur.
MountainOne Financial Group is a holding company that includes the Hoosac Bank, Williamstown Savings Bank, the Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan and Collins Agency, and True North Financial Services.

Part Of The Fight

A day spent attired in jeans in support of the fight against cancer created a very upbeat office atmosphere, said Hoosac Bank Assistant Branch Manager Kelly L.M. Dubie.

"[Putting on jeans] was the best part of getting up today," said Dubie during a morning interview. "It's making for a fun day. And this is a very good cause. Everybody knows somebody who's been impacted by cancer. Bank employees have been impacted. This gives people a chance to be part of the fight, part of a good cause. There's a sense of optimism and it lifts people's spirits."

Hoosac Bank employee Kristen LaFleur suggested that MountainOne entities and employees participate after she discovered the fundraiser during an Internet search. Company officials gave the endeavor an official approval.

Cancer Affects Everyone

The event is especially meaningful for LaFleur, who is frequently seeking new and creative cancer fundraisers as well as awareness and education programs and initiatives.

Williamstown Savings Bank Branch Manager Mary Morrow, and bank employees Jean Bourn and Katie O'Neil participated in a Lee Jeans "Denim Day" cancer fundraiser sponsored locally by the MountainOne Financial Group.


LaFleur's mother, Nancy Kuhner Schmehl, died from causes resulting from breast cancer eight years ago at age 42. LaFleur was an 18-year-old Mount Greylock Regional High School senior at the time of her mother's death; her brother was 14 years old. Participating in events that benefit cancer research and treatments as well as raise awareness is a main focus of LaFleur's life, she said.

"It's important to me," said the 27-year-old bank customer service representative. "It meant a lot to me that the bank was willing to do this. We have very conservative dress code so it's very nice to be able to do this and raise money for this cause. But this fits with Hoosac Bank. We give that extra personal touch, I believe, and we truly care about our community and each and every one of our customers. [Cancer] doesn't only affect immediate family, it affects everyone."

Advances in cancer treatments and an increase in cancer survival rates have occurred since Schmehl was diagnosed, including breast cancer and the cancers known as "women's cancers," which include uterine, fallopian tube, cervical and ovarian cancers.

"There's more they can do these days," LaFleur said. "There are more options than when my mother was sick. Over the past eight years, the advances have grown dramatically."

Much more is known about specific cancers, including breast cancer, and more is known about possible genetic links. Her own risk of developing cancer is believed to be increased by 65 percent due to heredity, LaFleur said.

Ripple Effects

Cancer currently creates its own cruel ripple effects that may be felt by family members for decades. For instance, the knowledge that her risk of developing cancer is likely increased has forced LaFleur to consider life decisions such as whether to have children from an emotionally challenging perspective.

Tears flooded her eyes as she recalled her mother's illness and death.

"It was so tough when my mom passed away," she said. "I was 18 and graduating from high school, and my brother was only 14. I can't imagine having a daughter- how hard it would be- it was so hard..."

The strides that have been made since her mother's death were greatly helped by the many cancer research and education programs that financial contributions support, said LaFleur and Kelli Kozak, a bank marketing assistant.

"I'm hoping that maybe we can start a chain reaction through the community and maybe have a bigger, city-wide event next year," said LaFleur.

"I think it's great for employee morale," said Kozak. "I've been to the other branches and customers are asking about this. We're so glad that Kristen brought this to our attention."

The predominant "denim day" employee attitude was optimism and hope that each contribution would encourage progress in the fight against cancer, Kozak said.

$61 Million And Counting

The Lee denim day event is promoted as the largest one-day fundraiser that supports research, education and awareness efforts focused on women's cancers.

The event was launched in 1996 as a breast cancer fundraiser and over the past 10 years, the event has raised over $61 million. This year, the initiative has joined with the Women's Cancer Programs of the EIF [Entertainment Industry Foundation].

"Lee Jeans has ambitious new research-focused goals aimed to support groundbreaking early detection research and fast-track treatment research," according to information posted at a www.denimday.com Internet web site.

The company's denim day goal is "the hope of making significant research discoveries and ultimately eliminating breast and reproductive cancers from our lives."

Additional information about the EIF is available at a www.eifoundation.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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