SBJ photo by McKenzie Robinson

2020 Most Influential Women: Sarah Collins

Paisley Collins Memorial Foundation

Posted online

In the span of one day, Sarah Collins’ life fell apart.

Five years ago, Collins’ daughter, Paisley, then 17 months old, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and Collins joined a club to which no one seeks admission.

“I went from having the most perfect life to being put on a jet and flown to Memphis, Tennessee, where she and I would live and fight over the course of the next eight months at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Collins says.

Paisley died Aug. 1, 2016, eight months after her diagnosis. Two weeks later, Collins and her husband, Tyson, channeled grief into action on behalf of other families facing pediatric cancer by founding the Paisley Collins Memorial Foundation.

“We provide financial assistance to pediatric cancer families all over southwest Missouri,” Collins says. “We help pay for expenses beyond these families’ ability to pay. This includes rent, mortgage, car payment, gas, groceries, electric payments. We have stopped a family’s vehicle from being repossessed so they could get their child to her chemo treatments as well as provided a brand-new dishwasher for another family. … We pay these types of bills and expenses not just once but every year the child is going through treatment.”

A former special education teacher, Collins became a stay-at-home mother after the birth of two daughters 15 months apart, one of whom was Paisley. When she lost her daughter, Collins assumed the role of lifelong advocate, raising awareness of the lack of resources for pediatric cancer families.

“It angered me that there were so many different organizations out there for so many great reasons, but so little for children literally dying of cancer. Watching your child slowly slip away from such a disgusting disease will not only make you fight for change, it will also help you be the change,” Collins says. “I am proud to say we started this foundation just covering Springfield and a few surrounding counties and in four years, we now service all of southwest Missouri. My bald baby may no longer be here but there are plenty of others who are, and I am proudly serving as their voice.”

The Paisley Collins Memorial Foundation started with $5,000.

“At the time, we were only able to grant families $500 and we only serviced six counties,” Collins says. “We soon realized we needed to find a way to raise funds for the foundation or we were going to be out of money very quickly.”

So the annual Paisley Collins Memorial Ball was created. The initial goal of raising $5,000 was exceeded when the event garnered $45,000 — and then $75,000 the next year. The third annual event was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19. The fundraiser has allowed the foundation to increase its aid to $1,000 per family each year of treatment.

“Most people don’t realize we have over 300 pediatric cancer families in our area,” Collins says. “Because of what I have gone through, I now have a platform to turn darkness into goodness and be the light for families in my community during a very dark time.”