Nothing could have prepared us for losing our oldest child, Richard, to cancer. Richard was diagnosed in the spring of 2006 with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Within a few weeks of his diagnosis, we realized we had many things to be grateful for during this difficult situation. We could afford to pay the growing medical bills and had a huge support network. We also knew we needed to reach out to others who were traveling down this same path, especially to those who might not have the same financial resources and support system. After all, the only thing a parent should have to focus on when dealing with a very sick child is getting that child healthy. So in the midst of Richard’s journey, Go4theGoal was born.
Go4theGoal (G4G) started by using the resources of generous friends, families and strangers who reached out to help Richard. Our organization continued primarily with successful local fundraising events such as a 5K race named, “Richard’s Run” and golf outings. Go4theGoal has expanded during these six years to not only help families but also to be proactive in finding a cure through funding innovative research. We also pilot hospital-based programs in Hackensack to help children and families during their treatments. Today our work reaches across the nation.
Bergen County Academies goes for the goal
Two of our most-successful programs started in New Jersey schools: National Dress 4 Pediatric Cancer Day and our Go4theGoal Champions Club.
At Bergen County Academies (BCA), then freshman Sara D’lorio of Ho-Ho-Kus was moved by a neighbor’s diagnosis of pediatric cancer. Since G4G is based in her home town, Sara was familiar with the organization and asked her computer teacher to start a Go4theGoal club. Soon Evelyn Rios became the advisor of the first Go4theGoal Champions Club.
BCA students have initiated many fundraising events to support Go4theGoal. But the club has not been confined to its own school walls.
“We are proud to say that we have taken Go4theGoal Champions Club across the nation,” notes Rios. “Being able to help students help G4G and its efforts by raising money, hosting events and volunteering at G4G events has been a very rewarding experience. It makes me so proud to work with such caring individuals who give of themselves unconditionally for such a great cause.”
It’s impossible to quantify the learning that has occurred thanks to BCA’s Champions Club. Students developed organizational skills in promoting their own fundraisers. Their communication skills have been sharpened through letter writing campaigns, advocating for their cause, and reaching out to businesses and their civic skills have grown as they have set up their first board, going through an election process to do so.
The students were not the only ones learning. The work of Rios and her club also helped us at G4G test the waters with our own fundraising and events and enabled us to redefine our goals as an organization.
September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month
Raising awareness of this killer (pediatric cancer causes more deaths than any other disease) became a key focus of G4G. Last fall, we had the first Dress 4 Pediatric Cancer Day and will be hosting this again on Sept. 27, Richards’s birthday.
Again, we started within a school setting and before long, students across the state were participating in “Gold Day” (gold is the color associated with pediatric cancer awareness) and “Jeans Day” to help less fortunate children who were battling cancer.
At Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, teacher and cheerleading coach Christine Boody helped promote “Gold Day.” Every year, Boody encourages her squad to reach beyond themselves and help support a cause. One year they helped the family of a cheerleader whose brother was battling brain cancer. Last September, Boody presented the Go4theGoal information packet she received on Dress 4 Pediatric Cancer Day.
“The squad responded with eagerness and enthusiasm and had many ideas to help the cause,” said Boody. “I think their response had to do with almost everyone knowing someone that has battled cancer. They also knew that no child should have to face this fight.”
The cheerleaders at Clearview Regional High School sold G4G merchandise, promoted Gold Day, and held a bake sale. They even convinced one good-humored teacher to receive a pie in the face at a pep rally from the donations raised. All of this touched Boody personally as her brother had battled leukemia when he was a young boy. Now he is 17 and she has never forgotten the support her family received.
“My family could not have gotten through this fight without the help and support of so many in the community. The fact that the cheerleaders were so passionate about helping families like mine was overwhelming to me.”
Students at Triton Regional High School in Runnemede participated in the first Dress for Pediatric Cancer Day thanks to athletic trainer Karen Flint. When her colleague and friend Wendy Frantz lost a son to Ewings Sarcoma, Flint worked with Go4theGoal to raise funds and awareness.
“September is such a significant month for pediatric cancer. It has been awesome to see our students embrace such a worthwhile cause. If any organization can make a difference, it’s Go4theGoal,” Flint noted.
Lace Up for Pediatric Cancer
The Lace Up for Pediatric Cancer campaign took off this past year in schools throughout the state. Many athletic teams wore sneakers and cleats with neon yellow laces, supporting Go4theGoal. One laced-up baseball team even tied the number of home runs hit to pledges and donations and raised over $7,000. By selling these laces in many schools and proudly wearing them, the team raised needed funds, as well as awareness.
If you visit our website, you’ll see a list of dozens of sports teams that have Laced Up for Pediatric Cancer. This is largely due to the generous and supportive teachers, coaches and administrators working in our schools. It’s so important that G4G involve students in its efforts, but this would not be possible without enthusiastic and caring adults.
When students and educators support G4G, they are actually helping kids who are battling cancer within their communities. The school can even decide how it wants the money to be used. It can be directed toward research, families, a local hospital treating pediatric oncology patients, or even to help a peer several hundred miles away.
Our family’s tragedy of losing a child and my children losing their older brother has brought many blessings to our lives. We are grateful to the many teachers and students who we truly call our friends.
Beth Stefanacci is the founder of Go4theGoal Foundation. She can be reached at BethStefanacci@Go4theGoal.org.