For The Dialog
ELKTON, Md. – Max Brady already knew where he would use any money he received at his birthday party last weekend.
For the second year in a row the sixth-grade student at Immaculate Conception School decided to donate all his birthday money to “Pennies for Patients,” a school-based program sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Maryland.
Last year, Max’s birthday fell during the three-week drive to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research and to provide patient access to treatment. He offered the $80 he received for his birthday, along with $23 dollars more, to the campaign, the first at Immaculate Conception. “I had a goal when we went into it to give as much money as possible,” he said.
When school resumed on Tuesday, following the Martin Luther King Day holiday, Max whose birthday was Monday, is awaiting the arrival of his birthday money to donate to Pennies for Patients by the time the drive ends Feb. 3.
Last year, the school with about 200 students raised $2,000 through its first Pennies for Patients drive, said counselor Megan Januszka, who coordinates the effort. That was almost double the average of $1,100 raised by participating schools in Maryland last year, said Tricia Sturm, school and youth coordinator for the Maryland Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
No goal is set for this year’s campaign, Januszka said, but she thinks students want to beat last year’s total.
The success when compared to other schools comes as no surprise, she said. “Despite the fact that we are such a small school we are extremely service-oriented.”
That orientation ties in directly to Immaculate Conception’s identity as a Catholic school in the Franciscan model of service.
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Pennies for Patients allows students to work together to help others while learning about service and philanthropy, and developing their character.
At a kickoff last week [Jan. 13] for this year’s drive, sixth graders including Max, as Captain Chemo, gave an educational skit about white and red blood cells, platelets, cancer calls and chemotherapy. They also watch a video that showed that people with cancer, as Max put it, “are normal people.”
That assessment helped sixth-grader Aidan Pressler overcome a misbelief about cancer. “I always thought you could get cancer from touching someone with cancer,” he said. “Now I know better. You don’t have to stay away from them.”
Aidan recalled that a girl about his age at his grandmother’s church had died of leukemia, before he learned of Pennies for Patients. “I felt like it (Pennies for Heaven) was the right thing to do to remember her.”
Other students interviewed did not know anyone who had leukemia or lymphoma, but almost all had been affected by cancer.
Collecting Pennies for Patients became a personal endeavor for sixth-grader Alyssa Jezyk. “I had thought about helping people with cancer because my dad had cancer with I was little, and my grandmother had breast cancer.”
Pennies for Patients provides her an opportunity to help people with cancer and their families now. “It really makes me feel good about myself that I can help them in any way I can.”
“I know how much it hurts when someone you love has it,” Alyssa said. “I was really young at the time, but I understood that Dad was really sick. It made me sad.”
One of Max Brady’s neighbors had throat cancer three times; on the second recurrence he died. “He was always nice to us.”
Max recalled the neighbor would visit his family, and on birthdays “he always gave us good gifts.”
One wonders if that neighbor might think Max has more than repaid him by giving his birthday money to help others with cancer.