Four years ago, Brenda Edwards retired as director of career technology for the Rockdale County school system. Her new path in life didn't turn out exactly as planned.
"I retired one year and got breast cancer the next year," said Edwards, 55, executive director of the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to breast cancer awareness, prevention and education. "I've been through chemotherapy and radiation, so I know what it's like."
The KCAF will host the fifth annual Kim Atkins Memorial Tennis Tournament from Aug. 27 through 29, which features competitive and family matches held at Rockdale Tennis Center, 1400 Parker Road.
Edwards said the tournament fundraising target is $35,000. Combined with the already amassed $50,000 from prior fundraisers, the KCAF is in the beginning stages of reaching its $500,000 goal.
The money will be used to purchase a mobile mammography unit, complete with digital mammography machine, transport vehicle and other necessary equipment for breast cancer screenings. Edwards said the KCAF hopes to partner with Rockdale Medical Center and other local hospitals for staffing.
The mobile mammography unit would serve Rockdale County and counties east of Rockdale such as Newton, Morgan and Greene. The unit would visit locations such as businesses and schools, providing ample opportunity for women to get screened for breast cancer.
"The idea is for convenience. There are so many people with their busy schedules working all day, feeding families, with activities at night. The idea is to park it at a business and during lunch breaks and other times during the work day they can go and have a mammogram," Edwards said.
The Atkins Tennis Tournament is the largest fundraiser for the KCAF. Tournament registration is $80 per team if paid by Aug. 1 and $90 per team if paid between Aug. 2 and 9. Participants may join in women's doubles, men's doubles, family doubles and senior (over 50) mixed doubles in levels AA/A/B/C.
For those not playing tennis, the tournament offers other ways to join in, like attending the Serve em' Up party on Aug. 27. It's free for registered players and $30 per person for non-players. The adults-only party, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Law Offices of Jorge Flores in Olde Town Conyers, features beer tasting, hors d'oeuvres and entertainment from the Peeled Onions, a local band. Players may pick up their T-shirt and goody bag that night.
In a new aspect of the tournament offerings, participants and spectators may purchase metal flowers ($30) and butterflies ($10) on stakes from Kim's Garden in honor of friends or loved ones who have had cancer. There will also be a cancer survivor tent and a children's play area.
Also new is a tennis ball drop in which up to 250 balls will be sold and then dropped by helicopter into a specific area; the closest ball to the bull's-eye wins a cash prize. The balls will be sold at the Serve 'em Up Party, one for $10 or two for $15, and the drop takes place on Sunday after the tennis finals.
Rounding out the tournament weekend is a Finals Cookout at 4 p.m. on Aug. 29, which is free for players and $15 per person for non-players.
For its first three years, the Atkins Tournament generated $125,000 for the Rockdale Medical Center Foundation which used the money to help purchase a digital mammography machine for RMC. After the RMC Foundation dissolved two years ago, organizers established the Kimberley Chance Atkins Foundation.
The mission of the KCAF is to promote early detection of breast cancer and to educate the public about breast cancer prevention, treatment and recovery. In addition to the tennis tournament, the KCAF has also sponsored a Kick Up Your Heels For a Cure run at Kennesaw State University which raised $2,500 and a Bachelors and Bras event which yielded $13,000. Breast cancer awareness activities such as Pink Parties and Pigs with a Purpose are planned for October.
Edwards said that the core group of people who have worked on the Atkins Tournament have remained over the years and new faces have also joined in.
"I think there's not one person that you meet that doesn't have some type cancer or know someone with cancer and they want to help in some way," Edwards said.
The woman for whom both the tennis tournament and the KCAF are named, Kimberley Chance Atkins, worked as a Rockdale County school teacher and earned Memorial Middle School teacher of the year in 1998. In 1999, Kimberley died of breast cancer at age 32, leaving behind a then-4-year-old daughter Abbey and husband Benny Atkins.
Benny Atkins, president of the KCAF and former board member of the RMC Foundation, has worked tirelessly to see that his former wife's death results in more prolonged lives for other women. He said there is no mobile mammography unit that serves Rockdale and counties east.
"Our focus is to allow our community to have things that other counties have access to," he said. "The mobile unit is expensive but I can see it saving lives through early detection."
For more information on the Atkins Tennis Tournament or the KCAF, call 770-364-3575 or visit www.kimatkins.net.