Self-esteem project brought to campus


Jackie and Warren Hance were thrust in the national spotlight after their three daughters were tragically killed in July 2009 in a wrong-way automobile accident on the Taconic State Parkway that became national news.

Emma, Allyson and Kate Hance, aged 8, 7 and 5 respectively, died after their aunt, who authorities later said was drunk on vodka and high on marijuana, drove more than a mile the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway before getting in a head-on collision that left eight dead, and the Hance family shattered.

As part of their efforts to move on from the tragedy, they embraced the memory of their daughters by establishing the Hance Family Foundation in September of that year, and a program called “Beautiful Me” that promoted self-esteem in children.

Four thousand inspired young girls later, the foundation has begun tailoring its message to an older crowd, which is what brought them to St. John’s on Oct. 1 to work with female campus ministry students on issues like body image and self-esteem. So how and why did they choose St. John’s?

The daughter of Dr. Pamela Shea-Byrnes, vice president for University ministry and University events, was one of those 4,000 young girls to participate in “Beautiful Me.” Shea-Byrnes left with one thing in mind. “I’ve got to get ‘Beautiful Me’ to St. John’s,” she said.

The about 40 campus ministry students were the first participants in the college version of “Beautiful Me,” and participants walked away impressed.

“I thought it was an inspiring program,” said Kelly Sweeney, a senior. “I was able to see that most girls deal with self-esteem issues, which is a huge problem.”

Kate Tuffy, one of the program’s education directors and a friend of the Hances, said Warren Hance came up with the idea of establishing a foundation just two days after the deaths of Kate, Emma and Allyson, and started with the girls’ elementary school classmates. The program is designed to include an aspect of all three girls’ personalities.

“I would ask Jackie things like, ‘how would Kate respond to auditioning a play where she didn’t think she would get the lead?” Tuffy said in describing the influence of the girls on “Beautiful Me”.

The spirit of the three girls is very much alive in the program. It began with a slide show of photos of the girls, leaving Warren Hance, who introduced the program, wiping away tears, before the women in attendance broke into groups to talk about women’s issues.

The staff and volunteers at “Beautiful Me” will be back at St. John’s on Oct. 16, this time to talk to sorority sisters and pledges about the same themes that they’ve talked about with young girls, high school students and campus ministry members.