The Story of the Firefly Sisterhood
This coming October, as we look with hope toward a future where no one has to go through breast cancer alone, we also look with gratitude at our past, to those who helped the Firefly Sisterhood become a reality. It is because of the effort and ingenuity of those who laid the groundwork for our organization to flourish that we are able to provide the support for survivors that we do today.
Our story goes back to 2013 when the Yoplait Team was exploring new avenues for the brand’s charitable efforts. Yoplait had long been a supporter of breast cancer related causes—the pink lids on their yogurt containers were among the most recognizable and successful campaigns among retailers—but they were interested in learning about the unmet needs among breast cancer survivors. And through an internal company-wide campaign called the Big Bold Experiment, which was designed to promote innovation and community engagement, General Mills was poised to offer significant funding in support of a creative, lasting, culture-changing concept imagined by one of their brand teams.
The Yoplait team began to conduct initial research in conjunction with their partners at Olson, the creative agency. This research included individual conversations and focus groups with survivors, the first of which was very memorable for Erica Jensen, then Integrated Marketing Manager at Yoplait. She describes that the group discussion revealed the survivors’ common experience of feeling a lack of personal support after being diagnosed—a lack that had left deep scars for many. What they discovered was that across the board, the women wanted a peer to talk with, a personal connection with someone who had been through what they were experiencing.
“There are phone lines, message boards, support groups, but the one-to-one connection was what was missing,” describes Erica. Renée Seran, Marketing Communications Consultant at Yoplait echoes, “We were finding that clearly, the focus needed to be on a new way of supporting an individual going through her journey.” The team was empowered by the insight they gained, and by the idea that they might be able to fill a very real void in the lives of breast cancer survivors.
They developed their initial findings carefully and deliberately, aiming to have the most meaningful impact possible, and the concept behind the Firefly Sisterhood was born. Initially conceived as “Big Sister, Bigger Sister,” the team’s idea to launch an independent organization that fostered one-to-one connections between recently diagnosed women and inspirational survivors won the seed funding from General Mills. Olson was instrumental in developing the new organization’s unique brand identity: the image of the firefly was the perfect symbol for how Guides help light the way through dark times. “The more fireflies, the brighter the light,” describes Erica. “It really encapsulated what we hoped to create by connecting survivors.”
With the framework for the organization in place, the team moved quickly to make it operational, including launching a search for an executive director; Kris Newcomer was the clear favorite among the candidates for the position. Erica and Renée report that her passion, her ability to make connections, her great depth of experience, and her facility in wearing many hats made her invaluable from the beginning. Soon after, Jenny Cook was hired as program manger, and they’ve proven to be a stellar team. In the Firefly Sisterhood’s brief life, 115 matches have been facilitated to date, and the value of the organization’s work gains broader recognition every day.
Everyone involved saw from the start how impactful the matches were for recently diagnosed women, and Erica reports, “As a happy byproduct, we also discovered that even women who have completed their journey with breast cancer love the opportunity to give back and love the opportunity to get together…The Guides, these wonderful strong women, were benefiting from the connections just as much as the women in need of support and guidance.” As Renée describes, “We hadn’t set out thinking about serving long-term survivors, but it turns out that the Firefly Sisterhood really fills a need for them as well.”
Though Erica has moved on to a different position at General Mills, she continues to work with the Firefly Sisterhood as a board member. Both she and Renée are incredibly confident in the future of the organization. “Kris’s leadership and Yoplait’s support have allowed us to do so much so quickly, and I feel that we could be a national organization within the next three to five years. We know the need is great, it’s just a question of how best to get out and fill it,” says Erica. And Renée reports, “It’s exciting to be looking at models for how to expand, and General Mills will always be there in whatever supportive fashion we can.”
We’re deeply grateful for the work of all those at Yoplait and General Mills who brought the Firefly Sisterhood into being, and who continue to support our efforts. Through their inspiration, we’ll shine on to inspire hope in the breast cancer community for many years to come!