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Taunia Oechslin was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. The diagnosis prompted her to begin not only a fight, but also a fundraiser.

Oechslin launched “Girls Night Out,” an event designed to educate women about breast cancer (including the importance of breast self-exams), and to bring together current breast cancer patients, survivors, friends and family members. Oechslin attended the inaugural and the second annual event but, unfortunately, passed away at age 39 on April 9, 2009, just as the third event was being planned.

Meghan Stahl-Skinner, who serves as chairwoman of Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Foundation, says that she promised her best friend that she would continue to “pay it forward in her memory.”

Stahl-Skinner and everyone involved with the annual “Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out” have indeed been paying it forward, and in a big way. This year, they are celebrating a milestone achievement: this fundraiser hit the million-dollar mark. 

“We have so many sponsors and people in the community who have stepped up over the years to help us raise this incredible amount of money,” Stahl-Skinner says.  

Before the 13th annual “Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out” event was held April 16 at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown, approximately $850,000 had been raised across TOGNO's 12-year span. 

That night, over 800 women attended and, by the time the night was over,  $150,000 (the most money the event has ever garnered in one evening) was raised. In May, a check for $150,000 was presented to representatives of Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center. 

Since its inception, all proceeds from the event have been donated to JMBCC, which is located at 600 Somerset Ave. in Windber. According to www.windbercare.org, the money raised from “Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out” has “provided financial assistance to patients for breast imaging examinations; breast biopsies and surgeries; genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndromes; and education about the importance of breast cancer screenings. Contributions also support equipment and technology needed to screen, detect and diagnose breast cancer, ensuring access to the most up-to-date technology for community members.” 

Even though organizers are still celebrating the difference they’ve helped to make in so many women’s lives, they acknowledge that their work doesn’t end here. In fact, they’ve set a new goal. 

“This coming April,” Stahl-Skinner says, “we will start our journey all over again and raise a million dollars more.”

In the meantime, Stahl-Skinner and other volunteers have launched their local “Give Breast Cancer the Boot” campaign this month, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink breast cancer boots can be found in locations throughout the community. 

“The month of October is a great reminder for women to schedule their mammograms,” Stahl-Skinner says. “And the pink boot campaign is a great opportunity to give people the opportunity to donate to our cause. Feel free to drop in a penny or $10 . . . whatever amount you can. All of this money helps women get the care they need.” 

Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Foundation may do so by clicking on the “Donate” button at www.togno.org or by sending a check or money order to Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Foundation, 227 Terlyn Drive, Johnstown, PA 15904. Checks should be made payable to Taunia Oechslin Girls Night Out Foundation. 

Oechslin’s initial goal was to raise $40,000 in order to represent the number of women who die of breast cancer each year. Stahl-Skinner says that if Oechslin were here today, she’d be elated to hear that they’ve raised one million dollars for such an important cause.

“It is a huge deal,” Stahl-Skinner says. “I don’t think in Taunia’s wildest dreams that she ever thought we would be here, at the million-dollar mark, but I know that she would be absolutely thrilled to know the number of women we have helped with the money we’ve raised. And I think she’d be honored that the community continues to support us after all of these years.” 

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