4 UES H.S. Students Raised Over $140Gs for Blood Cancer Drive, Now Act as Mentors in ‘24 Push

Four high school students, working on two-person teams, raised a combined $140,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society last year. This year, they are sharing the fundraising skills from social media to in-person coffee house fundraisers that they mastered in the course of their campaign. The ‘24 campaign will end on March 15.

| 07 Feb 2024 | 05:17

Four students who had close family members stricken with blood cancers turned their attention to raising money while their loved ones battled the disease. They participated in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student Visionaries of the Year fundraising campaign, collectively raising over $140,000. This year, they are teaching a new generation of kids how to get into the fundraising game.

For all of them, it is a personal mission.

Nine years ago, Maddie and Maya Martinez, then five and seven years old, found out their mom Michelle was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that starts in the white blood cells and attacks the lymph nodes. Only after six rounds of chemotherapy and the constant threat of further debilitation and even death did Michelle rid herself of the disease.

Quinn Sterling’s dad was stricken with high-risk Myelofibrosis, another blood cancer that damages the bone marrow with fibrous scar tissue. Like Michelle, he underwent intensive treatment and is approaching the four-year mark of being cancer-free.

Isabella Knee’s family has been touched with several different cancers, including her grandmother, who is in remission from Follicular Lymphoma. This variant, more common among older people, causes white blood cells to clump together around the lymph glands and other organs.

Though all three of these blood cancers can be cured through modern science, the treatments are expensive, do not guarantee recovery, and even when it does, the cure can cause debilitating side-effects. Other kinds of blood cancers do not have a cure at all.

That is why all four now-high school students from the Upper East Side are taking a leading role in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Student Visionaries of the Year fundraising campaign in New York City, which kicked off late last month and invites high school students all across the city to team up and rake in as much money as they can over a seven-week period of friendly competition.

“This is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” said Maya. “When you reach out to people and tell them that your mom had cancer and that you remember having to go through this with your family and that I want to make sure no one else has to fear losing their mom to cancer in this way, people respond to that.”

Maya and Maddie, from Fieldston High and Friends Seminary respectively, formed one team. Quinn and Isabella, both attending Dominican Academy, formed another. According to an LLS spokesperson, the funds raised by the student teams are directed towards three pillars—scientific research, financial assistance to blood cancer patients, and advocacy for policies that support them.

At first, the four UES students found the task daunting. “I used to be scared of adults,” added Quinn. “I was always nervous, thinking of myself as just a kid talking up to someone. But something I learned last year was to be a more open person and not to be afraid to talking to a variety of people and a lot of people at the same time.”

“As teenagers, we don’t make money ourselves, and so we have to reach out a lot to friends’ parents and extended family,” Maddie added. “It was very hard to put yourself out there and convince them to support your cause when they might not be directly connected to it. But we learned over time that even if we get some nos, there are many people and business across UES that were willing to support us if we asked.”

With each solicitation, their confidence and self-belief grew. They expanded their methods for reaching out to encompass social media, texting, handwritten letters, and online appeals, and also began cold-calling people and organizations they never previously had any connection with, including coffee shops and restaurants with space to host fundraising events. “Once we formulate a lot of emails, you become used to it, it becomes easier, and picking up this kind of skill and confidence feels very gratifying,” explained Isabella. “I met so many people who also had family touched by cancer, or were survivors themselves, and my passion for the cause grew even more as time went on.”

“This campaign gave me the confidence to try new things, to make asks even if they might not work out, to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Maya. “The biggest thing to do is take chances. You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take, but doors open when you say who you are and what you’re doing and why it matters.”

At the end of seven weeks, both teams brought in some of the biggest hauls of the campaign. Maddie and Maya raised $60,000; Isabella and Quinn mustered $80,000. This year, as members of the LLS Junior Leadership Team, they are mentoring other teams to follow in their footsteps. Starting October last year, they have been helping new candidates navigate the fundraising world and begin reaching out to sponsors.

“Our mission is so much stronger when people come together and work collaboratively,” said Quinn. “And this also means encouraging other people to contribute and believe in their ability to contribute.”

This year’s Student Visionaries of the Year campaign kicked off at Slate in Midtown Manhattan on January 27, and will continue until March 15.