Fashion for a Cure 3

PANDA Raises Funds and Hope for Childhood Disease

There is nothing more devastating than learning that your child has a life-threatening disease. Fortunately, there’s hope in the form of capable doctors and breakthrough research. The Steele Children’s Research Center at the University of Arizona, Tucson is at the forefront of research for childhood illness, discovering cures for diseases and bringing hope to sick children.

It was this sentiment of hope that led Phoenix residents Robyn DeBell and Penny Gunning to co-found The Phoenix Women’s Board of the Steele Children’s Research Center, also known as People Acting Now Discover Answers (PANDA), where members are dedicated to raising awareness and private funding for the Steele Children’s Research Center.

Humble Beginnings

When DeBell met Gunning after she moved from Tucson to Phoenix, the two of them teamed up to find a way to make the Steele Children’s Research Center accessible to Phoenix residents.

“We were trying to find a way to bring Steele up here to Phoenix, and also a way to make research personal and relevant,” says DeBell. “Penny originally had the idea to do a children’s fashion show, and at the time there was really nothing like it here, so we went ahead with the concept.”

In 1999, they put together a group of 35 local women that they felt were confident enough to chair the fashion show— a group that would eventually become the founding board for PANDA.

“We literally tried to just get all our friends and neighbors that were seasoned in events,” says Gunning.

The first “PANDA Children Helping Children” Fashion Show and Luncheon was held in 2000, with 30 children as models and 300 guests in attendance. It is safe to say that the show has grown dramatically since then, now featuring about 55 models with nearly 1,000 community members attending.

The theme for the 2016 show, which will take place in April, is “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.” They’ll celebrate all the child heroes fighting devastating diseases, as well as the doctors and nurses who provide care. The event is always dedicated to research, and this year will be raising funds for the PANDA Personalized Pediatric Research Fund.

All About the Children

Even with PANDA’s great success, DeBell and Gunning have never lost sight of the heart and inspiration for the show—the children.

“The fashion show is the fun part, but what really keeps us passionate is the kids,” says Gunning.

The board members aren’t the only ones helping kids through PANDA’s efforts either, as an integral aspect of the show is the “Children Helping Children” concept.

“We always tell our child models that they are walking down the runway for someone that can’t, and that they’re a part of this for some little boy or girl that’s in the hospital and is too sick to be doing what they are doing. That is very important to us,” says Gunning.

A Lasting Legacy

Another integral aspect of PANDA’s fashion show is their commitment to creating a self-sustainable community event.

“Every member we brought in had a daughter or granddaughter that participated in the show, then their daughters and granddaughters would do the same, so it’s sort of a self-sustaining organization,” says DeBell.

It is that level of commitment and personal involvement from all members and participants that has truly made the organization flourish.

DeBell and Gunning have no intention of stopping anytime soon, either.

“I think we are in it for the long haul,” says DeBell. “As long as we can walk and talk and stand, we will be doing it.”

For more information on PANDA and this year’s fashion show, 
please visit AzPanda.org.