Most everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. From patients to family members and close friends, the disease has lasting effects on the community as a whole. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, someone is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer every three minutes, and more than a third of blood cancer patients still do not survive five years after their diagnosis. The mission of LLS is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma along with improving these patients’ quality of life. As the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer, LLS runs a number of programs to further this mission, including one in which students can play an important role.
LLS’ Students of the Year program accepts around 30 high school students each year in the Atlanta area to participate in a seven-week fundraising competition. Students are nominated or apply to the program beginning in the summer and, upon selection, begin planning for the fundraising campaign in early November.
This year, Buckhead residents Sophie Blasberg and Molly Levine raised a staggering $118,869 through the program, more than double the amount of last year’s winning team’s proceeds. This sum marks a new national record for the Students of the Year program, exceeding the old record by $2,879.
For Sophie and Molly, seniors at Pace Academy, participation in the program stemmed less from a personal connection and more from a passion for giving back. Both students have been involved in community service at school, Molly as a Service Leader for Cumberland Academy and Sophie as a Pace Executive Service Leader for Trinity Night Shelter. However, neither had ever taken on a project of this magnitude. “I think it opened my eyes to how many people are affected by cancer and how many people are willing to help such an important cause,” says Molly.
Special Events Campaign Manager Chantal Coxhead heads the Atlanta branch and serves as a mentor to each of the teams. Before the fundraising campaign, she coaches students on how to write business letters, conduct solicitations and effectively raise money. LLS also introduces them to Honored Heroes, children affected by blood cancer who are recognized by the program each year, adding a personal tie for participants without a prior connection to the cause. Many teams dedicated their campaigns to this year’s Honored Hero, junior Santiago Barrera of Wheeler High School. Sophie noted that her favorite moment of the program was seeing Santiago at the final Gala, after the winners and their total amount raised had been announced. “Cancer affects everyone,” says Sophie. “I hope that people are inspired to get involved, especially with LSS, but honestly any cause that is important to them.”
Drawing inspiration from last year’s Pace student participants, alumni Darby Cochran and Morgan Kelly, along with Molly’s uncle who had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the two set a goal of $116,000 and used weekly financial targets to stay on track. Their key to success was the hundreds of contacts who made donations via email campaigns, online platforms and personalized letters. These contacts, along with sponsorships, community donations and their LLS mentor, provided the high school students with a sizeable network.
“The most outstanding growth I saw in Sophie and Molly was in their leadership,” says Coxhead. “These skills were apparent as they balanced their efforts with required academic coursework and extracurricular activities by working before and after school to execute their fundraising campaign. Their involvement and leadership in this program set an example for Students of the Year candidates to come.”
Sloan Wyatt is the Lifestyle Editor of Pace Academy’s Knightly News.