No sports this year, but Play for Pink raises $25K for LBBC

January 11, 2021

How does a fundraiser built around athletic events succeed in a year when sports are cancelled? Tufts University senior Lilly Bolen was faced with that question in 2020, but through persistence her Play for Pink event was able to raise $25,000 for Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

Play for Pink started 2 years ago when Lilly, with the help of friends and other members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at Tufts University in Massachusetts, set up tables at sporting events during Parents and Family Weekend to sell T-shirts and raffle tickets in support of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. That first event raised $3,800.

Lilly suggested the 2018 fundraiser as a way to honor her mother, Lauren Bolen, who died of metastatic breast cancer in 2017, just a few weeks after Lilly graduated high school. Her mother was private about her diagnosis and treatment, Lilly remembers, but found the network and support she needed through Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Lauren eventually served on LBBC’s board of directors and impressed on Lilly the importance of providing community and support to other women affected by the disease.

“My mom always admired what LBBC does,” Lilly said after the first Play for Pink event. “She thought that LBBC gives real, one-on-one, individual support for people who were in the process of treatment and then even after treatment. Research is important, but also supporting those who are going through a really hard, difficult illness is what she thought was really great.”

When Play for Pink returned to Tufts in 2019, it included an online fundraising page, which Lilly says helped them reach more people and collect donations from people who might not make the live sporting events.

The addition of the fundraising site was a major part of the 2019 fundraiser. It proved even more important in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused Tufts University to cancel their fall and winter sports seasons –  meaning no fans, and no place to hold Play for Pink.

Rather than miss out on her last year to lead Play for Pink at Tufts, Lilly organized Play for Pink as an all-virtual event. Organizers tapped every outlet they could to get the word out: Coaches promoting to their teams and networks, the Tufts University Athletics Instagram account, a new Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Instagram account, and Lilly and her fellow organizers texting friends, classmates, family, and coworkers to ask for support. They encouraged the teams to compete over which could raise the most funds, with a goal of $1,000 for each team. Through the dogged work of Lilly and the students and staff in Tufts University Athletics, Play for Pink hit its goal of $25,000.

Lilly says it was heartening to see how the community responded to the fundraiser even without the sporting events that had been at the center of it in years past.

“The sad thing about breast cancer, but also something that is a uniting front, is that almost everyone you meet has or knows someone who has been affected by the disease,” Lilly says. “So people tend to respond well and are willing to donate and spread the word.”

Lilly is scheduled to graduate this year and has begun thinking about what comes next for Play for Pink. She’s encouraged younger members of SAAC to continue the fundraiser next year, and offered her support.

“I am incredibly proud and think that each of the events were a huge success,” Lilly says. “I look back on them as some of the most exciting and rewarding times of my college experience.”

Meanwhile, she looks forward to finding new ways to help support women who have been effected by breast cancer as she moves into a new stage of her personal and professional life.

You can host a DIY fundraiser like Lilly did. Check out our website if you need help or inspiration. Or if you would like to make a simple donation to honor or remember a loved one, you can visit our donation page.