Students in Gurney Elementary School in South Russell recently raised $10,762 in just three weeks for blood cancer research. It is a record-breaking amount for Pennies for Patients. Gurney students’ achievement ranks them in the top three schools conducting fundraisers in Northern Ohio.
The fundraiser is a program of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said Erin Zaranec, who is campaign manager for Pennies for Patients. She noted that the Chagrin Falls School District has an especially close connection to the disease. Superintendent Robert Hunt’s son Hawken is a survivor of Burkitt’s lumphoma. This year Hawken was one of the campaign’s Honored Heroes.
Dale Tschappat, Gurney guidance counselor who coordinated the program, said it is the most money the school has ever raised for Pennies for Patients. Gurney has participated in the campaign since 2009.
“We promoted bringing in their spare change and not their savings or piggy bank money,” Mr. Tschappat said. “We try to make it fun and we talk about how it is helping people.”
Their parents donated too, he added. Each classroom had a box to place the money in.
Teacher Ben Rose’s second-grade classroom was the top fundraising classroom with $1,546.69. His class won a lunch from Olive Garden and ice cream sandwiches.
Staff members offered incentives to help make the campaign fun, he said. “When $6,000 was collected, kindergarten teacher Lisa Dugach, first-grade teachers Dayna Vilk and Justin Wise dyed their hair rainbow colors, blue and red, respectively,” Mr. Tschappat noted.
At $8,000, Mr. Rose and school custodian Shawn Carlson had their hair cut in the Mohawk style, he said.
Also at $8,000, school Principal Rachel Jones, librarian Mary Jo Czerr and Mr. Tschappat agreed to wear costumes as the students arrived in the morning. “We wore a clown suit, a bunny suit and a banana costume,” he said.
Kindergarten teacher Kelly Purcell agreed to a “silly string party” for her class once they reached $200 in donations.
“We used these incentives to generate excitement but we also continually emphasized that the purpose of our Pennies for Patients was to raise money to help fight cancer to help those who have been diagnosed with cancer,” Mr. Tschappat said.
The students learned lessons through the campaign that will live long outside of the classroom, Ms. Zaranec said.
“The number is absolutely amazing and will impact so many patients and their families,” she said of the students’ efforts. “And it is even more amazing when you take into consideration that Gurney is made up of pre-kindergarten to third-grade students. These are kids who get really excited over being able to help others,” Ms. Zaranec said.
Gurney students have raised $59,915 over the years the school has participated in Pennies for Patients. They did not participate in 2013-2014 or 2014-2015 school years.
The kids learn about and get inducted into the Hero Squad during in-school presentations. In the presentations, they learn about red and white blood cells and platelets and how they interact in the body, and what blood cancer is and how the Hero Squad is working to beat it, Ms. Zaranec said. The Hero Squad members are patients, teachers, doctors, scientists and students.
Gurney kicked off its Pennies for Patients in late February when students were inducted into the LLS Hero Squad during in-school assemblies.
Last year, the students’ fundraising efforts paid off, resulting in multiple teachers dying their hair purple to honor their work, Ms. Zaranec said.
“This year, the stakes were even higher, with students fundraising to see some of their favorite teachers coming to school dressed as a duck, a banana, a cupcake and more,” she said. Mr. Tschappat knew what would get the kids excited to break records.
Last year, the students raised $8,600 and they topped it this year by $2,138. Every 79 cents of each dollar collected directly benefits the LLS mission of curing leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma and improving the quality of life of patients and their families.
In addition to raising the funds, the students were connected with “Honored Heroes” from Northern Ohio who have been affected by blood cancers. Students are encouraged to write letters of support and encouragement.
“This is a huge growth for a school,” Lindsay Silverstein, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Northern Ohio Chapter, said of the Gurney achievement. “These kids and the entire Gurney community really came together to help change cancer.”
Because of new and better therapies, blood cancer survival rates for children have improved significantly during the last several decades, but there is still more work to be done. Leukemia is one of the most common types of cancer in children and adolescents, so the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients program provides a meaningful way for kids to help kids. “Gurney Elementary is proof that a huge impact can be made with pennies,” Ms. Silverstein said.
Since it began in 1993, Pennies for Patients has helped the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society invest almost $1.2 billion in research to advance break-through cancer treatments that are saving lives and improving the quality of life for patients and their families, she said.