The Willie Family: Knitting Scarves for a Cause

20140125_150549Penn State truly is an inspiring university that offers so much more than just an education. It offers great academics, a lively social life, the open arms of the town of State College and the chance to get involved with philanthropic work.

This prestigious university offers something for everyone and if you search hard enough, you will find it. You may even get so lucky as to find the one thing you are looking for that combines all of these great entities into something special.

Sophomore Alison Willie is a Penn Stater majoring in civil engineering, but her connection to Penn State traces back to 2004. In 2004 her grandfather on her mother’s side was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In 2005, this rare cancer was found in her father’s kidney as well. Since this cancer is so rare and hard to catch (both men discovered their cancers through freak, unrelated accidents), it was a coincidence that kidney cancer struck twice in her family through unrelated bloodlines.

The Willie family decided they wanted to contribute to the fight against kidney cancer and traveled to Congress in March of 2006. The Willies were told that this cancer doesn’t get much funding because it is “not a popular cancer” and it would never get substantial federal funding. Funding is necessary for finding a cure because your kidneys filter out toxins in your body, including chemotherapy, which makes curing this cancer difficult.

Family photo 1

Through further research, Alison’s mother discovered Penn State’s Lift For Life, a fundraising event held every July by the Penn State football team that benefits the Kidney Cancer Association for research. Her mother reached out to the staff advisor of the charity and the Willie family attended their first Lift For Life in 2007. “My family sends holiday cards to the football team every year thanking them for the work they do to help kidney cancer” says Alison Willie.


After attending the event in 2007, Alison became so inspired and wanted to help even more so she decided to knit blue and white scarves to raise money. She personally made 17 scarves for the Lift For Life event in 2008 where she had a table and “sold” her scarves based off donations and made $200 for the charity. In 2009 the Willies began selling their scarves for charity at the Blue and White Game in April at the carnival. As time progressed, the Willies recruited over 40 knitters and currently make over 300 scarves per year. In 2010 the Willie family partnered with McLanahan’s. The scarves are sold there for $20 and all profits go to Lift For Life. The money then goes to the Kidney Cancer Association for research.

Alison is glad to say that both her grandfather and father survived their fight with kidney cancer, there has been an increase in treatments since 2004 and her scarves have currently raised over $30,000. If you’re interest in purchasing a scarf, all the money goes towards this foundation. Check out the Willie Family Penn State Scarves Facebook page for more information on how to place an order. Also, if you’re interested you can go into McLanahan’s and ask for information as well!

Photos provided by Alison Willie 


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