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In fight vs. cancer, New Lenox school shows ‘people care’

Eighth-graders Emily Owens (left) 13; Taylor Peters (center) 13; Rachel Kirn (right) 13 skip as they participate Martino Out Walks

Eighth-graders Emily Owens (left), 13; Taylor Peters (center), 13; and Rachel Kirn (right), 13, skip as they participate in the Martino Out Walks Cancer event on the track at Martino Junior High School in New Lenox. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 19, 2012 12:50PM



The colorful ribbons bore simple but significant hand-printed names — Nana, Grandma Cindy, Aunt Diane, Melanie, Catherine.

Others were printed only with the words “leukemia,” “lung” or “breast.”

Hundreds of them were pieced together to create two giant ribbons that adorned the track outside Martino Junior High School in New Lenox. All were there to remind the hundreds of students why they spent most of Friday morning walking laps around the track.

Martino Out Walks Cancer was an effort launched by the eighth-grade student council to raise money to fight a disease that obviously had touched so many. The first-time event raised $8,500 for the American Cancer Society.

“I almost fell over,” Martino Principal Bonnie Groen said of the amount. “They really have great hearts.”

She admitted it took some convincing before she allowed students to hold the walk during school hours. But Friday was a half-day, and half-days usually have a theme, she said. On this Friday before Thanksgiving the theme was “Giving back to others.”

Each walker had to raise at least $15 to participate, and more than 400 of the 615 students met that goal, student council co-sponsor Jennifer Stiglic said. Even the student council members were amazed at the response.

Preparing for the event meant coming to school early in the morning and staying late, but they all agreed it was worth it.

“I can’t believe it is this big,” student council president Madisen Hipelius said.

“It’s crazy that there’s so many people out here. People care. People want to make a difference,” council secretary Kyla Egizio said. “It’s amazing.”

“It’s awesome. I’m so proud of my school,” Allie Harris said. “We all know someone who has been affected by cancer.”

Students have conducted other fundraisers — for Haiti, and Toys for Tots — but this sort of event was a first.

Most of the money came from pledges and family donations, but the school also donated a portion of the entry fee and smoothie sales from the last school dance — Martino Out Dances Cancer, Stiglic said.

“We were blown away by the support of the students, families and staff. Together, we really can make a difference in cancer research,” she said.

Despite the serious message, it was an upbeat event. Motivated by music and hot cocoa, students wore balloon hats, blew bubbles, walked backward and skipped along the track with the school’s Viking mascot. Even Mother Nature contributed with sunny skies.

While they all knew this was way better than sitting in their classroom, they also understood their purpose. Many wrote names on the backs of their T-shirts, as they walked in honor of cancer victims and survivors.

Eighth-grader Nikki Ryan walked in memory of her grandfather, who died of cancer.

“I’m helping a lot of people,” she said, adding that her family members pitched in with donations.

“It’s for a good cause and it means that my school can step up and do something,” eighth-grader Ryan Meagher said.

“My mom is a nurse and she deals with cancer a lot,” said Connor Olson, a seventh-grader. “I hope we can find a cure.”

After the walk, students gathered in the gym and presented a check to Michelle Pruitt, of the American Cancer Society.

“You did an outstanding job,” she told them. “We are so, so, so grateful for each one of you who took a step around the track.”

As he took his final lap, student council member Michael McGarry summed it all up.

“I honestly hope this will become a yearly event,” he said.



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