WAXHAW – When seventh-grader Dylan Jacob was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, his peers at Cuthbertson Middle School wanted to do something to help.
Students and faculty at Cuthbertson recently united in an effort to raise money for Dylan through the simple act of sending Dylan well wishes, bringing in $5,000 in just two weeks.
Dylan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer found in the bone or soft tissue. Physical education teacher Tess Palmer taught Dylan last year and wanted to do something for him when she found out about his illness.
When Palmer began thinking about ways to raise money to help Dylan’s family pay for medical expenses – including the chemotherapy and radiation treatments he’ll have to undergo – she remembered a fundraiser she’d been involved with where chain links were cut out of construction paper and sold to help support a cause. For two weeks, the school sold blue links students could purchase for $1 to write a “get well” message for Dylan.
“Construction paper is relatively cheap,” Palmer said. “It was just an easy way, and kids love to write messages and feel like they have some kind of connection to it, and it was visual so they could see (the fundraiser) growing. The kids loved seeing it.”
Principal Scott Sofsian said the original goal was to raise $3,000 through the fundraiser. Thanks to popular demand and support from students, faculty and the community, the links brought in more than $4,300, he said. The school sent two large bags full of links from seventh-graders to Dylan and the rest of the links were connected to form large chains – one spelling out Dylan’s name – and hung in the school’s main hallway.
Cuthbertson also collected money through a candy sale the school band organized, proceeds from the school’s Friendship Dance on Valentine’s Day, contributions from a Marvin Ridge High School varsity baseball game and donations from community members. The total raised, when added to the link fundraiser, tallies up to about $5,000, Sofsian said.
When eighth-grader Patrick McHenry found out about Dylan’s condition, he was inspired to go above and beyond purchasing links.
“I thought it was sad because cancer is a bad thing, but it’s a lot worse when it’s affecting children,” said Patrick, who didn’t know Dylan before he was diagnosed.
Patrick started going door-to-door in his own neighborhood asking for donations and ended up collecting more than $250. Some families
gave as much as $10 to $20, he said.
“I think it’s amazing how the teachers and the whole student body are behind a kid who has cancer and how we were able to raise (that much money) for him and his family,” he said.
In addition to the fundraisers and collecting money, a handful of students and faculty stepped out of their comfort zone to show their support for Dylan in a different way – shaving their heads. On March 8, 16 faculty members and more than 40 students shaved their heads in front of the school to honor Dylan, who’ll likely lose his hair during his treatments. Several teachers pitched in to help shave heads, while others filmed the event and made a special video that was posted to the school’s website for Dylan and his family to see, since they couldn’t attend the ceremony.
The school’s Cavalier Connection group also put together “baskets of sunshine” for Dylan, full of yellow- and bright-colored candy, notepads and other goodies, and parents and staff have signed up to provide meals for Dylan and his family through May.
“It just really warms your heart,” Sofsian said. “It really makes you feel like this is a community that you want to be in and that you want to live in and want to teach in or work in because it’s a really caring group, not just students and teachers, but parents as well.”
Sofsian said he’s hoping to get a link set up on the school’s website where community members can donate to Dylan’s family via their PayPal account. Check the school’s homepage, www.cms.ucps.k12.nc.us, for updates and details.