Two souls who lost their battle against cancer have inspired a yearlong project to raise funds for cancer research, and the project has engaged an entire school in the fund-raising efforts.
Dodie Frazier, a Clinton Junior High School teacher and student council adviser, and CJHS Student Council President Katie Tracy started the project with an idea, and to date more than $500 has been raised for cancer research.
Frazier’s inspiration to raise funds for research came about when she began to follow native Clintonian Alana Rushing Weston’s journey and battle with stage 4 breast cancer on Facebook. Weston’s public videos chronicled her battle with the disease.
“She put a face on cancer,” Frazer said.
In a video posted in July 2018, Frazier’s former Clinton High School classmate gave visitors an update about her cancer and the news she got from her doctor. She was out of options, with no more cancer-fighting drugs available to her. And she was almost out of time. Her doctor’s advice: Go make some memories. Her final video garnered record response on Facebook. In the video, Weston asks not for cancer awareness, but please for research funds to fight the disease. She died a month later.
After watching Weston’s final video, Frazier knew she had to do something to make a difference. She decided to bring the idea of raising funds for breast cancer research to the CJHS student council as a service project. Her co-sponsor, CJHS teacher Jill Penick, was on board with the idea.
Independent of Frazier’s idea, Tracy had been mulling some ideas of her own.
“When I was in the third grade, my friend Alden (Stephens, of Clinton) called me and told me her father had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” 13-year-old Tracy explained. As Tracy helped her friend go through the journey, they became close friends. Stephens’ father died when the two girls were in the fifth grade.
“Since then, we’ve [Tracy and Stephens] wanted to do a big fund-raising thing.” When Tracy was elected student council president at the end of last school year, she realized she was in a position to promote raising funds for cancer research. Tracy is now in the eighth grade.
At the start of this school year, Frazier talked with Tracy and proposed the student council raise funds for cancer research, and Tracy was immediately enthusiastic, explaining to Frazier that she was about to propose the same thing to her. Frazier was inspired to raise funds for breast cancer; pancreatic cancer was the disease Tracy wanted to fight.
Shortly after school started in August 2018, the full CJHS student council met and approved cancer research as one of their service projects for this school year.
“We started thinking of plans to make this a school-wide effort,” Tracy said. The CJHS student council has committees for various projects, and one is now specifically tasked with spearheading fund-raising for cancer research throughout the entire school year.
“Wen we lost Alana [August 2018], I contacted her family to ask permission to use Alana as the face of the project,” Frazier said. Weston’s family granted permission, provided the funds raised for breast cancer research go directly to MetaVivor.org, a nonprofit organization of volunteers that gives 99% of funds raised to cancer research and to grants to meet the needs of cancer victims, such as helping pay for medical treatments, hotels and travel – whatever is needed to help.
The first part of the year, they raised funds for breast cancer research for MetaVivor.org, starting the project in October, which is breast cancer awareness month. Tracy plans to begin work on raising funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, PanCan.org, in January. PanCan.org funds research, provides patient/caregiver support, conducts community outreach and advocates for increased federal research funding for those affected by pancreatic cancer.
The student council members sold pink paper light bulbs, using a quote on the bulbs from Weston’s Facebook page, “Be the difference. Be the light.” Weston had raised funds for MetaVivor.org with a t-shirt she designed, using that quote as inspiration.
“The kids put names on the light bulbs’ some in memory of those who died from cancer,” explained Frazier. As of the first of December, 2018, they had raised over $450 from paper light bulb sales, “which is remarkable,” Frazier said. “They [junior high school students] don’t necessarily have their own money. They have to ask their parents and bring it. There’s effort involved.” There are only 800 students at CJHS.
“Katie [Tracy] has taken this [project] and run with it,” Frazier said. “She has been amazing; she just handles things,” adding that Tracy organizes the group and keeps the project going.
Tracy is earnest and modest about her role in the project. “I really care about the student council and the cancer fund-raiser, so I try to do it the best that I can.”
She took a leadership training course this summer at the University of Southern Mississippi and came home prepared to tackle the project.
When asked how she handles the task, she said: “It’s my responsibility. I was elected to help this group achieve our goals, so we just do what we need to do to get it done.”
Following the first paper light bulb fund-raiser at the school, student council members continued the theme of light with old-fashioned Christmas light bulbs in the Clinton Christmas parade. Students made large light bulbs out of foam board and wore them, sandwich-board style, for the parade.
“The front light bulb had kids’ favorite quotes, and on the back was Alana’s quote [‘Be the difference. Be the light.’] With her initials on the bottom. Kids decorated them themselves,” Frazier said. The message was displayed on the parade banner and carried in the parade: “It’s a Wonderful Life. Help Save One.”
The students attached peppermint candies to cards with MetaVivor.org’s website on them and instruction on how to donate and passed out the candy at the parade.
In this spring semester, the student council will sell paper light bulbs to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. “That was the one [cancer] she [Katie Tracy] wanted to focus on,” Frazier said.
Frazier also downplays her role in the project, saying: “Without the kids, we couldn’t have done anything.” When asked about the extra effort and hours pu in by sponsors and student council members, Frazier said: “I want to teach them [students] about service.”
Tracy is also quick to give credit to others, asking The Clinton Courier to add “a big thank you to Mr. Wallace, teachers, the student council and everybody who has donated and helped with this whole project.”
HOW YOU CAN BE THE LIGHT:
To donate money for breast cancer research, visit www.MetaVivor.org and click the “DONATE” button.
To donate money for pancreatic cancer research, visit www.PanCan.org and click the “DONATE NOW” button.
To watch Alana Rushing Weston’s video, visit: https://www.facebook.com/alanaweston/videos/vb.535247606/10155922414882607/?type=2&video_source=user_video_tab