JWILL Pink Village

A Story of Strength Through Giving

Sometimes we find our calling and our purpose hidden inside our hardest moments, and in some cases, the smallest gestures carry the most weight on our journeys. Unbeknownst to Jen Willard, one small gift during her biggest battle would shift the course of her direction forever, teaching her that there is always a village supporting you. 

At 41 years old, Jen was diagnosed with stage 2 Breast Cancer. Her diagnosis came on the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 2015 and less than two months later she had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Fortunately, her treatment plan did not include chemo or radiation but due to complications from her initial surgery, she ended up with four more surgeries. As she was getting discharged from Littleton Adventist Hospital from her mastectomy, the nurse handed her a heart shaped pillow, which she didn’t think much of at the time. Due to her complications, she would end up at Rose Medical weekly for the next six weeks with her plastic surgeon and during that time, her little heart shaped pillow became a God send. The pillow had a strap that attached it to the seatbelt in the car, to provide comfort during car rides to and from the hospital. The pillow may look simple, but to Jen, each pillow represented a life and a story like hers and she knew each recipient would fight a battle of their own.

As she faced speed bumps in her recovery, she kept thinking of all the people that had been so good to her and her family and how she could pay it forward and give back to the community that supported her when she needed it most. She kept coming back to the pillow, as this small gift had made an everlasting impression on her heart. A stranger volunteering their time to put something so small together for her during such a scary and uncertain time in her own life. 

As a girl growing up, one of Jen’s biggest inspirations was her great grandmother Grace. “She inspired me because she was just always a helper in her community, whether that was in our church or volunteering at our local nursing home, she just was always known as a helper, and it was just such an inspiration to me. She always had a smile and a kind word and that meant a lot because she always gave her time” stated Jen. Because of this, she observed that the power of a stranger’s kindness and time can cause a ripple effect that makes a difference in the lives of so many others. 

Determined to return the kindness that was shown to her in her storm and pay it forward, Jen organized a sort of “gratitude project” if you will. Her goal was to make and donate 75 of the heart pillows that were given to her to her local hospital, AdventHealth Avista, where she received her first mammogram. So, on August 3rd of 2017, Jen launched JWill Pink Village (also her 18-month cancer free anniversary) and set out to organize donations, volunteers, and coordinate this project so they could reach her goal and deliver the 75 handmade pillows by October. Blessed with the love and kindness of her friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors Jen was not only able to reach her goal but to double that amount and donate 150 pillows to the hospital by October for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Each pillow was cut, sewn, stuffed and hand sewn closed by volunteers and Jen hand wrote all 150 survivor tags for the pillows. She knew that each pillow would be given to either a thriver, or a survivor in their battle against breast cancer, and she understood the weight that those small gestures carry in the lives of those that would need them. 

Once Jen exceeded her goal, she found that there were so many volunteers stepping forward to help in various ways that she felt a pull to drive this gift of giving forward. There are numerous groups of volunteers throughout the state that gather and donate their time to assembling each and every pillow. One of those volunteer groups is right in our own backyard at 55 Resort in Windsor. Two of the volunteers Kathy Berlingeri and Babette Basiliere help organize the gatherings at the Windsor chapter, meeting bi-monthly to assemble pillows.  JWILL has evolved and is now a 501c3 nonprofit and in 2019, they developed a patent design for their pillows, along with a trademark for their logo and name. To date, they have gifted over 6200 pillows across 40  different states, including Puerto Rico and Australia. Every pillow represents a life in the breast cancer community, either newly diagnosed, having a mastectomy, or currently in chemo/radiation treatment. Each pillow includes a handwritten tag that is only written by a breast cancer survivor or a thriver, they enlist help in order to accomplish this particular task. These special pillows are distributed specifically through hospitals that do mastectomy surgeries. The goal for each hospital is to gift at least one year's worth of pillows to support the number of mastectomies that hospital performs in a year. The pillows are not for sale; however, the organization does ask for donations to help them keep blessing more in need.

JWILL has changed the lives of countless men and women,  helping them heal both inside and out. For Jen, the opportunity to give back to the community and be able to provide comfort to those fighting their toughest battle is a blessing and she often finds that her kindness tank is overfilling on a regular basis thanks to the pink village community. Since her recovery, Jen chooses to look at life differently, being more present, seeing the beauty in all the small things surrounding her, taking chances,  and valuing the time she has with the people that mean the most to her. She gives because she knows how much a person’s kindness can alter another’s story, and that kindness is something we can all give more of. 


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