For senior fire prevention officer Andrew Isolano and his 10 firefighter colleagues, the ride in a Clovis Fire Department engine on Wednesday evening was like any other — except that it was anything but.
Sirens blaring and lights flashing, members of Clovis Fire Department, Clovis Police Department and special appearances by Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter’s pink-painted vehicles rounded the corner of Gnarley Charley’s neighborhood to surprise the KISS Country radio personality’s fiancée, Sandra Cliff Farris, who’s battling cancer.
The goal: to send a heavy dose of brightness, love and support her way.
“When you’re responding to a home because of a fire it’s one thing, but to go to help a family feel good — even if it’s for an hour or two — is a totally different experience,” Isolano said. “As firefighters, we’re very fortunate for the community support we get, so it’s natural for us to want to donate our time back.”
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The Pink Heals movement can be traced back to 2007 by founder and retired firefighter, Dave Graybill. He believed that rather than simply raising awareness of certain diseases, the emphasis should be put back on showing appreciation for the individuals and families suffering by partnering with public safety groups, businesses and community members.
“We are not a charity or foundation, but we’re a program that puts our volunteerism and labor of love to work for people in our community and keep the money that is donated to us right here in our local area for the people that need it most,” stated the Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter brochure. There are now more than 150 Pink Heals trucks driving throughout three countries, with The Pink Heals National Tour helping to spread the program’s message to more and more communities each year.
As a longtime volunteer of the local chapter, Isolano is no stranger to participating in Pink Heals’ signature home visits or to the wide-ranging charitable organizations that can be found in the Fresno-Clovis area. But he’s become quite selective over the years, focusing his attention on groups that function as true not-for-profits.
“The reason I’m so passionate about this organization is you can account for every single dollar that is donated,” he said. “People, like myself, that can maybe donate $20 or $50 because that’s as much as they can do, it means the world to Pink Heals. This is a Clovis community-based charity that you can really see does a lot of good.”
Funds raised by the sale of program merchandise also go toward the maintenance of the donated Pink Heals vehicles, each painted and personally named in recognition of a significant woman in the community who has been affected by a life-threatening illness. Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter has a fire engine, police cruiser and motorcycle in regular rotation at its appearances throughout the year, with the recent donations of a second police car and additional fire engine set to be painted and put into service for the program soon.
Fire engine “Alex,” police cruiser “Jocelynn” and motorcycle “Jody Jo” make their way around town at various local events, including the Old Town Clovis Farmers Market, Pink Heals’ annual “Walk 2 Miles in her Shoes” fundraiser, special engagements and more. People are encouraged to use the vehicles as a message board of sorts, penning personal messages, words of hope and prayers to those who have been affected or have lost their lives to cancer or any other life-threatening disease.
Residents can also find some of its 40 to 50 committed volunteers manning the Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter’s informational booth at community outings like Big Hat Days, Old Town Clovis Wine Walk and the KISS Country $5 Summer Concert series.
The program’s home visits can sometimes prove especially difficult for Isolano and other Pink Heals volunteers, as the diagnosis of the person and the family being honored are typically more serious. Gnarley Charley’s “spirit-raiser” was a celebration of Sandra’s life, which included a food truck, drinks, several live musical performances and a bouquet of hand-delivered pink roses by the Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter to help round out the special occasion.
“It’s a feel-good thing,” Isolano explained. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it gives people a good memory in a really bad time of someone’s life.”
Fresno County Pink Heals Chapter is always looking for more volunteers. To purchase merchandise or learn how you can get involved, visit its website.