May 20, 2010
All text and photos by: Jennifer Cowart
DOING THEIR PART: The students in Sherry Gemma and Kerry Lang’s fifth grade classes created more than 500 friendship bracelets to sell to their friends and family in order to raise money for the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser.
The fifth grade students in Sherry Gemma’s class at Chester Barrows are making a difference in the fight against cancer. In fact, when they found out their teacher walks on the “Laps for Laura” Relay for Life team, they were not to be outdone.
After a classroom lesson on fundraising, Gemma and her students began talking about their community. She shared her experiences walking in the Relay in honor of her grandmother who died of cancer, and her best friend Laura Albanese, who is currently fighting brain cancer.
I told them about Relay for Life and how important it was, and they wanted to help,” Gemma said.
Early in February, student Taylor Sukys came up with a fundraising idea that sparked his classmates’ interest.
“My auntie told me how to make friendship bracelets and I make them so frequently that I asked if I could make some to sell to my father’s friends and make some money,” Sukys said.
The class was enthused with Sukys’ idea and decided to ask if they could make the bracelets during recess time and at home, and sell them to do their own fundraiser for Relay for Life.
Initially, Gemma was wary of asking families to donate any more money, knowing money is tight and Chester Barrows does several of their own events throughout the year.
“At first I told them I appreciated their generous and thoughtful ideas, but Chester Barrows already has many fundraisers and I didn’t want to add another one to the never-ending list,” Gemma wrote in a letter home to parents. “Then I realized how important this was to them because it isn’t just a fundraiser, it’s a way to help prove that they can make a difference.”
Principal Paul Heatherton gave Gemma and her class the green light.
Sukys’ dad cut 20 boards that are used when weaving the bracelets and Taylor donated the string. Other students brought in beads and string as well. Sukys taught them how to make the bracelets.
With a couple of quick lessons, they were off and running with the Bracelets for Hope fundraiser.
“We went classroom to classroom. Somebody would hold the box and somebody would take the money,” said classmate Steven Tiernan. “Some kids would ask us to save one and they’d bring in the money tomorrow.”
Their goal of raising $100 was met in the first day.
“The kids knew the bracelets represented their $1, which helped in the fight against cancer,” Gemma said. “It became more than just a friendship bracelet.”
Student Julia Bell remembers being surprised that even boys wanted to buy and wear the bracelets.
“They wanted the thin ones because they knew what the bracelets meant,” Bell said.
The group opened the fundraiser up to other classrooms and several of them helped.
During Reading Week, Laura Albanese visited Gemma’s class to read to them.
“We told her about our bracelets and she was so happy, she bought one,” said Talia Parente, a student in the class.
Gemma reports that at one point, the bracelets were selling so fast the students couldn’t keep up with the demand. They started selling the ones they had on their own wrists.
Parente’s mother thought it was such a great fundraiser that she started making the bracelets at night and sending them in.
When the fundraiser was said and done, the students made more than 500 bracelets, raising over $500 toward the Cranston Relay for Life event, which will be held at Bain Middle School on June 4, beginning at 4 p.m.
“It made me feel a sense of pride that I was helping to end cancer because my grandfather and cousin were diagnosed. I am glad to know I helped,” said Maria Botelho, a student in Kerry Lang’s fifth grade class who participated in the fundraiser.
The students have one shared wish for where their money is going.
“Now that we made all of this money, the scientists can find a cure,” said Tyler Shaw.
Gemma has her own wish for her students.
“I hope that they see a cure in their future, even if I don’t,” she said.
For more information on Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org.