On Sunday, Aug. 23, the board of Franklin Needs, Inc., The Calendar Girls, held the first “Passing of The Pearls.”

The Pearls, which have been worn by the girls, has become symbolic of the organization. Their passing signifies the turning over of control to a new generation of Calendar Girls. The new board of directors is comprised of: Jessica Sparks, president; Katie Juno, vice president; Lauren Luberto, secretary; Dayle Flint, treasurer; and Krista Miller, member at large.

“We couldn’t be prouder of this group of amazing young women who will continue and even improve our fight against breast cancer in FranklinCounty,” said past president Elaine Kozlowsky, speaking on behalf of the former board.

In 2008, 47 percent of FranklinCounty women who were diagnosed with breast cancer had already experienced its spread.

About that time, a group of six women at a Panhandle Players cast party agreed to bare all, if necessary, to fight breast cancer in FranklinCounty. Soon, six other amazing FranklinCounty women enlisted, including three who were cancer survivors. Of this group, four women came together and formed Franklin Needs, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The original board members were Elaine Kozlowsky, president; June Dosik, vice president; Maryann Durrer, treasurer; and Ann Siculiano, secretary. With the departure of Dosik, Siculiano assumed the vice presidency, Glynda Ratliff became secretary and Liz Sisung was added as a member-at-large.

The group, which became known as “The Calendar Girls”, had a certain goal in mind: they would raise money to provide free mammograms to FranklinCounty women with no health insurance. Also, they insisted that everyone involved would be a volunteer and that 100 percent of the funds raised would be spent on FranklinCounty women. Their major source of funding would be a “tasteful” calendar featuring FranklinCounty women.

With the help of volunteer photographer Sue Bull, the 2009 calendar, which included all county events, was published in mid-2008. At that point the women hit the ground running. They had local merchants throughout the county selling the calendar. In addition, if there was a festival, event or any type of gathering going on in the county, you could be sure there would be a Calendar Girl selling calendars. A cabaret was also held at the Coombs Armory in October. The place was packed. The result of their first effort: the women managed to raise over $50,000.

Additional help came from former Weems Memorial Hospital CEO Chuck Covert, who wrote a grant application and received sufficient funds to purchase a used analog mammography machine. Unfortunately, this equipment became inoperable after a few years. All mammograms were then performed at Bay Radiology in Panama   City. With the opening of SacredHeartHospital in Port St. Joe, all women are sent there for digital mammograms. Any further testing is performed at Bay Radiology.

In 2012, the board felt the need to replenish funds. This time, a new set of FranklinCounty women eagerly stepped forward to be Calendar Girls. It was decided to publish a new 2013 calendar that would be dedicated to Ruth Schoelles, an original Calendar Girl who sadly lost her life to cancer. When word of the new calendar got out, the women of FranklinCounty stepped forward to help in any way possible. Even in difficult times, the number of sponsors, vendors, etc. more than doubled. With the same eagerness that they showed before, the Calendar Girls pressed forward to sell the calendar. The result: they raised another $50,000. It just goes to show that when FranklinCounty people work together, the sky’s the limit.

While the 2013 calendar was being sold, a group of young and energetic FranklinCounty women wanted to aid the cause. The group, which would eventually become the new board, held the first Island Pink Out at Eddie Teach’s on St.GeorgeIsland, which resulted in a large donation made to The Calendar Girls. They held the second Island Pink Out in October 2014. This time they nearly doubled their donation. The third Island Pink Out will be held at Paddy’s Raw Bar on St.GeorgeIsland on Oct. 9.There will be food, live music, a live and silent auction. Please be sure to put it on your calendar.

Since their inception, The Calendar Girls have paid for 314 mammograms. In addition, they have covered the cost of addition testing which in some cases approached $3,000. In all, they have spent a total of $47,237.34 on mammograms and additional procedures. This includes the nickel from a little boy at the Seafood Festival and the one dollar from a high school student who said his aunt had died of breast cancer. The dollar was all he had. Unfortunately, we’ve all been touched by cancer in some way.

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, it is unsure if this trend will continue.

“In talking to the staff of Sacred Heart, the number of mammograms that we pay for has dropped. This is quite possibly due to more women having health insurance,” said Kozlowsky. “If this trend continues, I have no doubt that the new board will seek out new ways to continue the fight against breast cancer in FranklinCounty.

“Finally, each and every Calendar Girl would like to sincerely thank the citizens of FranklinCounty. Without you, none of this would have been possible.