MINOOKA, Ill. — “Amazing,” said Minooka Community High School teacher Sam Pavelka as he viewed the outpouring of support during the Mini Relay for Life Fundraiser. “This never ceases to amaze me."
The Minooka High National Honor Society paired with the American Cancer Society to host a marathon 12-hour fundraiser on Sunday, Jan. 20 at Minooka High's Central Campus. The group had raised over $12,830 for cancer research by the time the event closed at midnight.
Pavelka, currently fighting a battle against Ewing Sarcoma, a rare pediatric bone cancer, took the first lap in the decorated halls at Minooka High School while passing lines of cheering students. Although he was in a wheelchair and wearing a surgical mask for protection from germs, Pavelka and about seven other cancer survivors were greeted by claps and cheers.
The rest of Sunday, until midnight, all sorts of activities would keep students, friends, families, and staff busy celebrating life, cheering survivors, fundraising, and walking.
“We were in one of the best positions to help by showing our support and community support,” said NHS President and Minooka High student Andrew Finney.
During the kickoff speech, Minooka High teacher Donna Engel complimented the NHS members on their “responsiveness.” When the members saw their fellow teachers and students suffering, the group came up with the plan to host this fundraiser, she said. Another teacher, math teacher Michael Assaf, lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, Jan. 27.
As students walked halls in a path laid out around the inside of the building, other students congregated in the cafetorium. A committee of NHS member students took a theme per hour of the event and created activities that attendees could participate in — live music, plastic alligator wrestling, cardboard box races, bubble blowing, and dance video games, among others.
Different groups of students, among them strong support from various student clubs, helped the effort, said Engel. She said the boys track team alone raised over $900.
This was not just an event for students. Parents and family members came to walk. Supporters included Minooka science teacher Brad Dorick and his family. Like others, Dorick donated to buy a luminaria, a simple white bag that would light with the name of fellow teacher Pavelka and other cancer patients in Dorick’s family.
During what was called the luminaria walk, Finney read the names of persons who died from cancer, survived, or those who are currently fighting cancer. As the cafeteria was darkened, each student put a lit glow stick inside one of the luminaria bags that decorated the stage steps.
The glowing candle-like bags stood sentinel while the quiet crowd filed out to walk the walk, again.