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Rising Stars: Meet Peggie Sherry

Today we’d like to introduce you to Peggie Sherry.

Hi Peggie, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
In 1997, I starting the Krewe of Agustina de Aragon, which was the first Gasparilla Krewe chartered as a volunteer-based Krewe. The members would suggest area charities to support and as the Founder, I would meet with the charities and find out how our members could support the charity’s mission. One of our members suggested a NY-based cancer camp with a local office in Tampa. Through a unique set of circumstances, I ending up running their Florida office. We started with 75 families and over the next four years, we grew to over 700 families served.

In 2002 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and six months later, they found two types of breast cancer. The Foundation I worked for didn’t think I could run camps and go through treatments at the same time and decided to close the Florida office. Since the families worked directly with me, they continued to contact me, asking when they could go camping. One of my volunteers sat me down and said, “these women and kids just want to go to camp. They don’t care what name is on the door; they want to go to camp with those of us they know”. After much thought, we started Faces of Courage Foundation with an inheritance from my parents, both of whom had battled cancer.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
If I knew then what I know now, I am not sure I would have had the guts to do it. Everyday is a learning curve. There are so many hats to wear: business manager, finance manager, fundraiser, volunteer recruitment, board management, IRS reporting, State reporting, payroll, participant recruiter, marketing, online presence in all its forms, public speaker, event planner and research recruiter… the list and learning curve seems endless. Fred, one of my former Board Members, once sat in my office and said (with a smile on his face), “I like you because your not too smart.” As I looked at him perplexed, he continued on, “It is a good thing. When you aren’t too smart, you see a problem and you go headlong into fixing it. Too Smart people see a problem and then figure out all the ways it won’t work and never get anything accomplished.” I guess my motto has always been Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. Just pray you don’t hit the concrete. After 17 years at Faces of Courage, we are still learning and pivoting to meet the needs of adults and children battling all types of cancers.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
One of the joys of working with adult cancer patients is to provide art projects that are beautiful, thought-provoking and in many ways healing. We have worked with many artists over the year, like Kathy Iwanowski, who invited our campers to fill out a piece of paper designed to look like a doctor’s drug prescription pad with their prescription for their doctor that would help them. Once completed, each of the prescriptions was then pinned to a doctor’s coat. The prescriptions ranged from grateful to deeply felt. One said, “I am not the Breast Cancer in room 3; I am a daughter, wife, and mother. I need you to hear and see ME.

One of the most powerful art projects we started over ten years ago is the Bodies of Courage Body Paintings. We teamed up with artist Lisa Scholder and Videographer Jim Webb of Webb Works to body paint and interview breast cancer survivors. Each survivor is body painted by Lisa as we talk and share their Cancer Story. The process usually lasts 6-7 hours and the outcome is both beautiful and life-changing. Jim has interviewed many of the 52 survivors who have been painted. When the breast cancer patients see their scared bodies transformed into stunning pieces of art, something changes in them… a metamorphosis of sorts. One Hospital Director said listening to the ‘models’ describe their experience makes him think that a paint session is just like three years of therapy in one session.

We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
For our foundation, success is meeting the emotional needs of cancer patients. Your medical community is programmed to find the disease and cure it. The basic education and emotional support is often not on their radar or more likely. They are not allotted the time to educate the patients and hold their hands during the battle of their lives. Patient/Doctor referrals tell us we are providing a valuable service. Since our founding in January 2004, we have hosted over 11,000 cancer patients from all over the United States. Success to me is when I look around our camps and see the hundreds of volunteers that give of their time and talents. Some have been with me for over 20 years. Success is a camper that takes off their wig at camp because most there have been bald and they don’t have to hide the fact that they are fighting cancer. One Mom told me she gave her son the option to go to Disney or come to camp and he chose camp. I asked why because I would have gone to Disney. She said he felt safe at camp and no one stared at him.

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