A box full of baby pink and hot pink tulle greeted a group of women at Carri Gervais' Del Webb home in Rancho Mirage.
"Girls, I hope you appreciate your 84 strips," she said during a recent Tuesday evening gathering.
What was the project at hand? Making pink tutus for an upcoming breast cancer fundraiser.
"Just fold it in half, got it?" Gervais explained to the 10-plus women eagerly listening in her kitchen. "You just put (the tulle) over (the elastic band), make a loop and just pull it through. ... It's easy!"
Many of the Del Webb ladies jumped at the opportunity to get creative, while some were more interested in the impressive food spread that their friends brought over (although they eventually were roped into helping create tutus).
These are the Mixed Housewives of Del Webb, a nod to their varied backgrounds, including where they hail from, sexual orientations and careers. For the past year, 18 women, between the ages of 53 and 76, have been meeting up every month to chat, craft, and during the month of October, fundraise for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Though they've only just begun this annual tradition, they've already made quite a splash. Last year the group raised more than $50,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, earning the third spot for top fundraisers in the nation. This time around they are hoping to raise more than $2,000 for the Desert Cancer Foundation, which states on its website every dollar donated translates to more than $10 in cancer care.
The women will participate in the 16th annual Paint El Paseo Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Walk and Fundraiser on Saturday, and also will host a Mimosa Bar after the walk in front of Garvais' home at 46 Burgundy in Rancho Mirage, where all are invited to attend and meet the team.
Through their goodwill and mission to give back, the ladies have also found a sisterhood that spreads love and positivity to each member.
Bucket list item of good
A cacophony of voices could be heard from every corner of the home once the women — all wearing matching white shirts emblazoned with "Champion," — worked on their tutus. Gervais moved from person to person to offer bits of advice and check their progress, like a queen bee flying to a new flower.
Lynn Allen, a two-year resident, wasn't all-in on the tutu idea, but as Gervais saw her work, she was beaming from ear-to-ear.
"She always tells me she can't do things and she's not capable," Gervais said.
"You can do anything," she reassured Allen.
Bringing together the women of Del Webb all began with a bucket list item for Gervais.
Gervais, from Washington, retired from teaching two years ago after a 37-year career. After she and her husband moved to the neighborhood, she could finally devote time to raising money for the Susan G. Komen foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer, according to its website.
Breast cancer affected her in many ways: Her grandmother and aunt died from the disease, as well as family friends. Sure enough, many of the other Del Webb women also had people in their lives who were impacted by the cancer.
About one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. The disease can also impact men, and about one out of every 100 breast cancers diagnosed in the United States is found in a man.
She reached out to another neighbor and decided to form a group that would fundraise — the goal was for each person to raise $2,000 — and participate in the annual 60-mile walk. The walk typically takes place over the course of three days, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to a few changes, including the option to spread the 60 miles throughout October.
"We walked in groups, found what worked best for people," Gervais said, which included women going on hikes and morning walks together.
On Oct. 17, 2021, a nationwide 10-mile walk took place, and the Del Webb residents began their trek around their neighborhood and surrounding areas early in the morning. Gervais was dedicated to fulfilling her bucket list item, and decided to do the walk even though she was awaiting knee surgery and her doctor advised her not to.
In the end, after just a short time of knowing each other, their fundraising efforts put them on the national board.
"We were all very excited," Gervais said about the result. "It was great to see in a short time collectively what you can accomplish."
This year, they came together as dear friends with a mission to help men and women in the Coachella Valley. Their chosen organization, the Desert Cancer Foundation, is a nonprofit dedicated to helping pay for cancer care among residents who need financial assistance.
Executive Director Eevet Edens said the foundation has contract agreements in place with the local health care community to help leverage every dollar.
"We have access to social workers, hospital staff and pharmacists, people who donate their time for free," Edens said. "We help navigate the patient, we help give them care."
The Del Webb women will take their pink tutus to the streets when they march with others at the Paint El Paseo Pink walk on Saturday. Toni Felando, wearing her poofy skirt while making another on Tuesday, was filled with joy at the thought of how their effort could help the greater community.
"Knowing that you're helping someone else, it feels good even though you will never meet them," she said. "I think it's phenomenal."
The group also will volunteer at this year's 17th annual Chef’s Auction put on by the Pendleton Foundation, another organization in town dedicated to helping meet the financial needs of local residents with cancer. The auction will take place Oct. 27 at the Indian Wells Country Club, located 4600 Club Drive. Tickets can be purchased for $150 per person.
Forming a sisterhood
By giving back to their community, the Mixed Housewives of Del Webb have found a sisterhood within in a short amount of time.
Felando ventured away from the larger group at one point to craft her tutu. Though it was a fun activity, her thoughts were consumed by sudden news that she had been laid off from her job. She was nervous about the uncertainty ahead, and because she is in her 60s, felt it was too late to "start over" in life.
Taking a moment to observe the group of women who were giggling over their skirts, including her wife, Donna Mills, who Felando said was "way out of her comfort zone" doing the project, reminded her of the supportive bunch around her. In particular, they have welcomed her and her wife with open arms. Felando felt she could never be fully open where she previously lived in Orange County.
"Here I feel like I'm finally living my life," Felando said. "I've got a good crew behind me that's being very, very supportive."
Speaking about Gervais, Felando called her a "gem."
"I know I have a friend for life. She's like a mom, she's like a sister, she's a friend, all wrapped up in one," she said. "I treasure it."
Many of the other women, even if they're new to the group, have grown attached to each other thanks to monthly activities they do together, like celebrating birthdays and crafting.
Sheila Balsimo, a Del Webb resident of nearly three years, is one of the "newbies" this year, she said, but she felt welcomed almost instantly. She's bonded with many of the women through pickleball and hangouts at their clubhouse.
"You make it what you want it to be. You make it as social as you want it to be, or if you want to be a stick in the mud in your house, fine," Balsimo said. "Everyone has been so inviting here, and that's the best way to come into a new community."
Even when they're not making tutus or doing other activities together, they find ways to show they're on each other's minds. Whenever Dayle de Raat travels around the world with her husband, she sends out an email recounting her adventures to about 60 people, many of whom are her Del Webb neighbors.
Looking at all of the pieces of pink tulle flying around each person and listening to the chatter and laughter in her home, Gervais was filled with gratitude toward the women for joining her in the journey.
"What a great, positive, girl power gig," she said. "If we can help end this terrible issue that exists out there ... that's why we do it."
Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ema_sasic.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: The Mixed Housewives of Del Webb Rancho Mirage breast cancer awareness