Giving Back Comes Full Circle

Conway native Andrea Bailey-Fournier began her career with a goal of giving back. The assistant volleyball coach at Conway High School founded Pink Night, a local cancer fundraiser. September saw the ever-growing event’s ninth year.
Andrea is married to Justin, and they have two daughters, Bailey and Harlee. Upon graduation from Conway, Andrea earned a volleyball scholarship to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Once she graduated from Tech, she coached and taught in Fort Smith for two years. She then came home when she began working for the Conway School District nine years ago. In addition to serving as assistant volleyball coach at the high school, Andrea is the head junior high track coach, and coaches girls physical education and personal fitness at the high school.
“I wanted to find a way to teach our athletes how to give back without expecting something in return. While kids often do fundraisers to purchase uniforms or other items, I didn’t feel there were many opportunities for kids to do something completely selfless. Seeing someone benefit from their work is a priceless lesson. With the world today, people get frustrated with what kids don’t do. Well, they have to see it somewhere and learn it, and that was my main goal.”
During her first year teaching in Conway, two of Andrea’s aunts were diagnosed with cancer. This gave her the motivation to start a fundraiser that would help reach her teach the students philanthropy. “Though the event is Pink Night currently, it started nine years ago to benefit the Side Out/Dig Pink Foundation. We donated the money to that organization at first,” she shares.
Four years into the fundraiser, the focus drastically changed. “One of the best volleyball players to come through our program earned a scholarship to play at Tech for the coach I played for. The month before she was to report to college, she found a lump in her neck. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So that was the year we decided to donate to a local person rather than a program.”
At this point the event became known as Pink Night. “That’s how it shifted to our donating to a local person. The first year we raised $1,800, and I was pumped. I thought it was awesome and did not expect that. Flash forward to last year, and we raised $20,000. It has grown exponentially,” says Andrea. Seeing and talking to the beneficiary of their work drives it home for the team and gives them a sense of accomplishment and a desire to work hard for the cause.
Entry to the event is only one dollar. The high school and junior high volleyball team members sell t-shirts to raise funds. They hold a raffle, and the team parents secure most of the raffle items from the community. “Conway is amazing. We are rarely told no. People here really want to help, and this speaks volumes for our town. This year we had 234 raffle prizes, so everyone had a good shot at winning,” says Andrea. Their largest fundraiser, raffle tickets, sell for two dollars. In addition, the seventh grade teams sell pink beads. They also hold a silent auction. Crain Automotive donated hamburgers this year, which they sold to raise funds.
“Determining the Pink Night beneficiary is usually a pretty obvious choice,” says Andrea. The second year, the parents of two team managers, one’s mother and the other’s father, were diagnosed with cancer, so they received the proceeds. The following year, the extremely unexpected happened. “My parents were both diagnosed with cancer. My dad was diagnosed in April 2015 with pancreatic cancer. My mom was diagnosed in June 2015 with colon cancer,” shares Andrea. “I called Coach Laura Crow and told her there wouldn’t be a Pink Night and that we were going to have to cancel it. There was no way I could do it because I was taking care of both my parents.”
Andrea’s mother had stage one colon cancer and underwent surgery. While she was scheduled to be home relatively quickly, she went septic and was in a coma for about two-and-a-half weeks. Her father passed away in August, while her mother was in the coma. “It took my mom about two weeks after waking up before her doctor wanted to tell her about Dad, so we had to pretend. It was the worst time ever,” she says.
During that time, the coaches and a team parent, Leslie Lamb, took over the event. “They called and said, ‘We are not going to cancel Pink Night. We are going to keep it going and are going to raise all the money for your family.’ It meant so much that they were willing to step up. I now know what it is like to be on both sides. My parents’ income was gone. They had no money coming in, so it was rough. I grew up in a family where they both had jobs, and we never had to worry. The situation was foreign to us, then my mom was in a coma, and my dad passed, so there were a lot of decisions to make. It was a lot, and I was so thankful they helped us out. I took off work the entire semester, so the money they raised helped me be able to do that,” she says.
Andrea also had a one year-old at the time she was caring for her parents. “I can’t even tell you. The City of Conway brought dinner to my family every night for three months straight. I am very blessed to have that. I want to pay it forward; I want someone else to have that relief and that stress taken off them,” she says. That year, Pink Night raised $13,000 for Andrea’s family.
One of the big changes in the event has been the addition of the Pink Ladies, a committee of player moms who serve as volunteers. The group started with about two mothers. Last year there were ten, and this year the group grew to 18. “They are incredible. I can’t brag on them enough, and they are setting the example for their daughters. One of the best developments is the involvement of these moms and the kids seeing that,” adds Andrea.
“Last year we raised money for Tina MacNamara. She was amazing. Our moms chose her as the recipient, and she sold $5,000 in tickets herself. She also secured tons of raffle prizes; all the while she was fighting cancer. She called constantly asking what she could do.” Pink Night raised $20,000 that year, largely due to Tina’s efforts. “We lost her in June of this year. Our motto this year was ‘What would Tina do?’ She was so appreciative. She was able to do a trial study with the money raised at Pink Night. She kept telling us ‘This prolonged my life. This gave me extra time with my kids and my husband,’” says Andrea. “Tina wrote a letter to the girls letting them know how Pink Night helped her. I read it to them, and we were all in tears. That is priceless. It is that feeling when you help someone that I want the girls to feel, so they carry it on and keep doing good.”
The 2017 beneficiary also had a huge impact on the team. Pink Night raised money for a 13 year-old seventh grade girl. A track runner, “She had leg pain when running and, after a lot of tests, learned she has osteosarcoma. It had moved from her pelvis to her spine and was inoperable,” Andrea says. “This year hit hard with them because it was someone around their age. The girls started to realize how blessed they were. Their biggest worries were whether they would make it to school on time. This girl was worried about finding the right wig and whether her chemo schedule would work around other dates. They kept bringing it up when talking with each other.”
Of the event Andrea says, “If you told me the first year that we would raise $20,000 one year, I would have laughed and said no way! I think it is incredible, and I feel strongly it changes the minds of these teenagers and even the volunteers.” Community volunteers include Andrea’s mom, Vickie Bailey. Though she spent over 120 days in the hospital, she overcame her cancer and is almost fully recovered. She now runs the raffle at Pink Night. They also receive help from Conway’s Junior Auxiliary and Delta Zeta sorority at the University of Central Arkansas.
“When I started Pink Night, I never imagined I would ever be a recipient. Now I know how it feels on both sides. So the people we raise money for, I know what it is going to do for them. I know what kind of burden it is going to take off them. It makes me want to push harder every year.” Andrea adds, “Conway is a great community, and I want the girls on the team to stick around and carry it on. That would make me the happiest person in the world.”