PITTSTON — As Sal Sciandra stood in the middle of a crowd of thousands Saturday, only one word came to mind.
“It’s electric,” he said. “Every year it just gets better and better.”
The nonprofit organization Paint Pittston Pink concluded its third annual fundraising week with its “Color Me Pink” 5K run, Caped-CURE Sader Family Fun Walk and Gentlemen’s Dash.
Almost all of the businesses on Main Street in Pittston were “painted pink” — bearing ribbons, messages and more on their storefronts in support of the organization.
Outside of the Pittston YMCA, approximately 1,000 runners gathered together to take photos as they waited for the buzzer to sound, signaling the start of their 3.1-mile run over Fort Jenkins Bridge, back up over the Water Street Bridge and through Kennedy Boulevard to the finish line at the Tomato Festival Lot.
Volunteers and members of the Pittston Area cheerleading team stood at various points throughout the race, equipped with buckets full of pink powder to throw as the runners passed through. At one intersection, a white Hyundai that was parked in the middle on an intersection to guide the runners got a new pink paint-job.
How it all began
Paint Pittston Pink was formed in 2013 by Barbara Sciandra and Qiana Lehman, with a goal of raising money every October — which is breast cancer awareness month — for the Pennies In Action Fund. The fund directly and solely assists Dr. Brian Czerniecki, who developed and has been clinically testing a vaccine for cancer, which Sciandra herself has personally used.
Diagnosed in 2012 with HER2+, an aggressive form of breast cancer that carries a high recurrence rate, Sciandra (a pharmacist) put her research skills to work in search of treatments for her illness. She came across Czerniecki’s vaccine trials and decided to join in.
Now cancer-free, Sciandra said the idea to begin an organization started with transparency.
“The reason that this got started is that there’s so many nonprofit organizations out there with CEOs that seek very high salaries, and not very much money is donated to research as it should be,” she said of Paint Pittston Pink’s inception. ” We really wanted to do something where we know where the money is going.”
Paint Pittston Pink has quickly gathered a loyal following of families, businesses and community leaders who want to contribute to cancer research and ultimately, a cure.
Pennies In Action
Pennies in Action was started by Olympic athlete and coach Uschi Keszler, who wanted to create a way to help Czerniecki with his trials at the University of Pennsylvania. Keszler, a double-cancer survivor, was a patient of Czerniecki — although she herself did not meet the criteria for the vaccine.
Now located in the Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Czerniecki is continuing his clinical trials for the breast cancer vaccine and working on a vaccine for all cancers. According to the Pennies In Action website, in the 10 years that the vaccine has been given, not one patient has had a recurrence of cancer.
“Pennies In Action is the organization that donates solely to his research, which is what made us decide to start donating the money there,” Sciandra said. “We really started researching non profits and the money just doesn’t go where you think it’s going.”
Running for a cause
After the 11.a.m. buzzer signaling the start of the race, the crowd moved up the street as they made sure to cheer their family and friends on as they crossed the finish line. Pittston resident Matt Hampton finished first in males with a time of 19:17, and Aubriana Marranca of Exeter was the first female to complete the race at 21:36.
Fifteen-year-old Kayleigh Walker ran in last year’s race. She decided to come back this year, bringing family friend Tianna Falcone with her.
“I thought it was a good cause, and I wanted to help bet breast cancer by raising money,” she said of why she runs.
“It’s an awesome cause, and a great town. I wanted to help out in any way I could,” Falcone said.
One group came to the race with more than 80 people.
Helen Mazzitelli of Forty Fort organized friends and family to come to the event for her daughter, Sara, who is currently battling breast cancer.
Her boyfriend, Matt, ran the race in her honor.
“I think it’s a fabulous event to get the word out and find a cure,” Helen said.
Perhaps one of the biggest events of the day is one of men. In heels. Running.
Eleven area men took on a 100-yard dash in heels, raising more than $37,000 for the organization altogether.
One of those men was Sunday Dispatch reporter Jimmy Fisher.
One of the last to change out of his sneakers and into the silver sparkly heels, Fisher was getting tips and tricks from friends and fiancée, Stephanie Sherman.
Last year, Sunday Dispatch reporter Nick Wagner donned the heels in his race, and decided to pass them down to Fisher this year. Although Fisher said he’s been practicing for the dash, he’s more concerned about finishing instead of winning.
“My concern is not winning, but not finishing at all and breaking my ankles,” he said as he strapped the shoes to his feet.
Rumor has it that the gentleman who raises the most money gets to wear the shortest heels, although none of the men knew for sure how true that was.
Just a few feet away, fellow dasher and Mountain Top resident Jim Bobeck was psyching himself up for the short-but-exhilarating event.
“It affects all women,” he said as he adjusting his fuzzy pink headpiece. “We can walk a few minutes in their shoes.”
Racing to Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like A Lady,” the crowd cheered the men on as they ran (or inched) their way down to the finish line. West Pittston native Matt Carmody came in first, who individually raised over $2,600. No man was injured during the dash.
Looking to the future
Both Barbara and Sal Sciandra believe the success of Paint Pittston Pink can be measured in the amount of money raised, but by the amount of awareness it brings and the level of community participation.
“I think for Paint Pittston Pink — this just turned into something a lot bigger than I ever thought it would,” she said. “I really feel like it’s almost out of my control. It has a mind of its own — it’s being guided by some greater force than me or our committee members, and I just hope that it continues to grow.”
“It definitely exceeded our goal as far as community involvement,” Sal added.
While the official numbers aren’t in yet, Barbara believes the organization will be able to donate $70,000 to $75,000 to Pennies In Action — about $25,000 more than last year.
As for next year? She said if this year’s goal was met, next year’s will will be set higher.
“We create goals, and the goals will go up every year we meet it. I think it’s always good to think outside the box and I think that expectations are a good thing.”
She said that her personal goal is to fund research that will have the power to cure cancer in the foreseeable future, and hopes that Paint Pittston Pink can contribute to finding a cure.
“There’s so much awareness about breast cancer right now, but now we just need to eradicate all cancers. I think if we continue donating money to research, that could be possible within my children’s lifetime.”