Everyone has the power to make a positive difference, even a child. Countless Metro Detroit students of all ages serve as shining examples, using their passion and creativity to raise significant funds and participate in Relay for Life of West Bloomfield.
Michigan’s largest community relay, which benefits the American Cancer Society, takes place Saturday, June 11, on the track at West Bloomfield High School. The group “Kids Conquering Cancer” will be among more than 50 fundraising teams and 2,000 participants at the 24-hour event.
“I think it’s my proudest accomplishment,” says Rachel Hollander, 22, of West Bloomfield about her decision to start Kids Conquering Cancer. She launched the group in 2007 as a bat mitzvah project at a time when a 6-year-old friend, Haley Nathan, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor. Sadly, Haley died several years later after a brave battle with cancer. The the group continued in her memory.
Rachel is now a senior at the University of Michigan with plans to pursue a medical degree and become a pediatric oncologist. This year will mark her student-led team’s 10th and final relay. They expect their total fundraising efforts to exceed $100,000.
“[Founding the team] gave me a way to be a leader and a way to see how many people care,” Hollander says. “What this taught me was the power of kids, which was the ultimate goal of the team; but I didn’t truly know what we could accomplish. We created something that has had a lasting impact.”
O.E. Dunckel Middle School in Farmington Hills has its own relay tradition. Alec Cohen, 17, of West Bloomfield started the annual event in 2013 after his grandfather Bob Cohen died from brain cancer. Students pay $35 to participate in an opening ceremony with inspiring speakers and a walk around the school track. In four years, the school has raised $20,000. Alec is now in high school, but he returns every year to take part in the event he started.
“I think it’s very cool to see how many kids participate,” he says. “Every person has the ability to make a difference — you just have to try. And that’s what I hope kids go out and do.”
One of the area’s youngest relay fundraisers is Bryce Toby, 7, of Auburn Hills. He started raising money for “Team Esther” when he was just 4 years old. He has lost loved ones to cancer, including his great-aunt Esther Olson, for whom the team is named.
“When you donate, it’s fine if it’s a penny. It can be a quarter, a dollar or anything,” he explains. “We’re raising money so we can have people not die.”
Bryce is a student at Walton Charter Academy in Pontiac. He has led his school’s fundraising efforts for the past several years and helped raise $1,600 to date. He started with a simple coin can, collecting loose change in preschool.
“I am personally inspired by the incredible passion of Alec, Rachel and Bryce,” says Michelle Silber, event lead for Relay for Life of West Bloomfield. “We are so grateful for their efforts and the hard work of all of our survivors, donors, vendors, sponsors and volunteers.
“The money we raise is helping support important services for local cancer patients and helping fund life-saving research.”
To learn more about Relay for Life of West Bloomfield, to participate, volunteer or make a donation, visit: www.relayforlife.org/westbloomfieldmi.
By Robin Schwartz, Special to the Jewish News