SHIRLEY -- The Lura A. White Elementary School has participated in the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Mathathon fundraiser for several years now. Students collect pledges for St. Jude as they complete a "Funbook" of math problems.
The hospital, located in Memphis, Tenn., is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. The daily operating cost for St. Jude, $1.7 million, is primarily covered by public contributions.
Shirley parent Melissa Dentino first became involved in the Mathathon three years ago, as an assistant to the former coordinator for Lura A. White (LAW), administrative assistant Kathy Banks.
"The last time I was involved with the fundraiser, in the 2009-2010 school year, we raised $425.12," said Dentino, who coordinated the program at LAW this past year. "Based on that total, I set this year's goal at $500. Imagine my surprise when we passed our goal within just a couple of days of the kickoff!
"I raised the goal a couple of times, the pledges kept rolling in, and in the end we raised $4,541.64. I can't begin to tell you how much I was touched by the generosity of the LAW students, and their families and friends."
Although participants can earn T-shirts and bags, and the program awards prizes for students who acquire $125 or more in pledges, Dentino and the Ayer Shirley PTO also arranged to provide a pizza party for the class with the highest participation. That
Then Dentino discovered that Ken Dow's first-grade class raised $931, or 20 percent of the total. "I was astounded," said Dentino. "I thought, 'We have to show them some recognition, too.' So they also got a pizza party."
How it adds up
After receiving permission to participate in the Mathathon from their parents, students collect pledges as they complete the Funbook of math problems.
The Funbook contains a curriculum developed by Scholastic, with each level designed to meet national standard requirements that help students practice and prepare for standardized testing.
After the students collect their pledges and complete their books, which they may opt to do online, they turn in the money and information about their sponsors.
"In the old days, we used to go door-to-door to collect for organizations like the American Heart Association. But today, door-to-door soliciting is discouraged, so it's more who you already know," said Dentino.
Fortunately, the Mathathon makes it easy for each child to create his or her own personalized web page, and then post it on a social media site like Facebook or email its link to friends and family. About half of the donations were submitted online.
Last spring's event ran from May 14 through May 31, so it took fewer than three weeks for the students to collect more than $4,500.
"I am so impressed with what our students were able to do this year, even with our late start. Every day I saw more and more money being raised, and I was just so excited. This is the 50th anniversary of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and they were so thrilled to hear what the LAW students did for their patients. I'm so proud of everyone that participated, and our combined effort proves that every dollar does count," Dentino said.
"My mom always says to help people"
At the first-grade pizza party, Dow's students were asked why it was important to them to raise funds for St. Jude.
"My mom always says to help people, so I chose to do it because I wanted to do what my mom said," replied Violet Gensel.
Meanwhile, Guarino's students, 40 percent of whom participated in the Mathathon, shared their pizza with other fifth-graders who raised funds for St. Jude. In total, the fifth grade raised $726.
"I know I did it, not for the pizza party, but because I know how it feels, because my mother had cancer before," said one student. "It's not fair that they have to suffer if it's not their fault," she said of St. Jude patients.
Why St. Jude
The funds raised by the students will benefit St. Jude, where doctors and scientists work to eradicate childhood cancer and other catastrophic childhood diseases.
Founded by actor and philanthropist Danny Thomas in 1962, the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has grown, with a network of 15 affiliate hospitals located around the world.
At the time the hospital opened 50 years ago, the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was four percent. Once a virtual death sentence, ALL now has a survival rate of 94 percent, and, according to its website, St. Jude has helped improve the survival rate of childhood cancer from 20 to 80 percent.
Fundraisers such as the Mathathon help the hospital to continue to find improved treatments for many kinds of childhood diseases, and now local kids have found an improved way to combine mathematics and philanthropy to help St. Jude patients battle catastrophic childhood diseases.