Several cancer survivors and lay health advisers spent their sunny Saturday indoors at the Aiken County Family YMCA to receive guidance on how to share a message of hope with those who are currently fighting the disease.

The first training session for volunteers of the newly established South Carolina Witness Project in Aiken County was held on Saturday. The project reaches out to the African-American population and works to increase awareness of breast and cervical cancer. The project promotes education, screenings and early detection behaviors among African-American women with the purpose of attempting to reduce the devastating effects of cancer.

About 10 women, either cancer survivors or lay health advisers, were in attendance. Aiken City Council Woman Gail Diggs and some Margaret J. Weston Clinic staff were local participants, as well.

Local organizer and breast cancer survivor Sabrina Early said the Witness Project had been established in the Upstate but not here in Aiken. She saw a need in the area and pursued creating a local chapter. She's excited to see it come together and said they had a good turnout on Saturday.

Vonda Evans, community outreach senior manager of the American Cancer Society Best Chance Network, said the women participating in Saturday's training were enthusiastic and asking great questions.

“These ladies are ready to educate and empower those in the community to get screened and participate in the health care system,” Evans said.

Evans said the survivors are faces of hope and can remind those who are just diagnosed that cancer is not a death sentence.

“They have survived,” Evans said. “That's their witness testimony.”

Partners of the local South Carolina Witness Project efforts include Best Chance Network, the American Cancer Society, the S.C. Cancer Disparities Community Network, Clemson University, State Baptist VWA, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Lowcountry and the S.C. Cancer Alliance.

“It's unique because nobody is taking primary ownership and everyone is working together for the same purpose,” Evans said.

Early said they are still looking for survivors or lay health advisers including caregivers, health care educators, college students or anyone who wants to assist in educating the community about breast and cervical cancer.

For more information on participation or the program itself, call Early at 803-522-2763, email or call Project Coordinator Kimberly Comer at 803-576-5691.