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April 7, 2013

Persons of the Week: Carrying on the battle: Volunteers support annual cancer gala

JOHNSTOWN — Defeating breast cancer is the goal of many women who raise tens of thousands of dollars each year toward that goal.

The seventh annual Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out is set for 5 p.m. April 23 at the Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown.

Named after the woman who founded it, the event benefits the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center, Windber. The gala to date has raised $355,000.

Oechslin, who had battled breast cancer, died in 2009 at the age of 39.

Both Laura Thomas and Andrea Bandzuh, who are among the more than two dozen women who volunteer annually for the event, were drawn to the event shortly after its founding upon seeing how important it was to the other volunteers.

“I was magnetically drawn to the generosity of people,” Thomas said.

“Many people were volunteering their time for the event, and many people were donating money to help find a cure for breast cancer and to help the Breast Care Center help women,” said the account representative at Forever Broadcasting in Johnstown.

“The volunteers dedicate a lot of time, and they have a passion and love for (breast cancer) awareness and for the individual who created the event, Taunia Oechslin.

“I did not know Taunia personally, but the effect and friendship that she had on other members of the committee is overwhelming.

“I think that they are all very special women,” Thomas said.

Bandzuh likewise was attracted to the event by the dedication of all the others who were involved.

“It’s an excellent cause,” said the claims support representative at Erie Insurance in Richland Township. “That’s why I decided to join.

“There are many people who support the event. It’s because of Taunia and the struggle that she went through with breast cancer, all the while helping women with breast cancer.

“It’s also because of the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center and what they do for the community.”

Bandzuh, who is in charge of the pink auction at the event, said she gets plenty of help each year from students at Bishop McCort Catholic High School.

“They (students) look forward to it every year,” she said.

For their efforts, Bandzuh, a Johnstown resident, and Thomas, who lives in Thomas Mills, are the Persons of the Week.

Meghan Stahl-Skinner, chairwoman of the event, said the event includes a dinner and a variety of activities including auctions.

Gifts that have been donated for the auctions range from seven nights in Costa Rica to a huge Pittsburgh Steelers’ tailgating basket to a beautiful Kate Spade basket, she said.

The event is sold out with 750 women planning to attend, she said.

“Laura Thomas and Andrea Bandzuh are hard workers, and they know how to get the job done,” she said. “They are working tirelessly to solicit baskets, sponsors and are hands-on with the setup of the event.

Patty Felton, director of the Breast Care Center, said her center and Girls Night Out share the same mission, which is to educate women about the importance of annual breast cancer screenings and to provide women with the most advanced techniques and technology available in the fight against breast cancer.

“Andrea and Laura are committed to this mission and have worked tirelessly to continue to pay it forward and carry out the legacy Taunia started seven years ago.

“They are making a difference in the lives of the women of our community and are very deserving of being recognized as Persons of the Week.”

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