Iroquois students raise more than $20,000 to fight cancer

By: Jeremy Selweski | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 21, 2013

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — For students at Iroquois Middle School, simply being No. 1 isn’t enough; now they want to do something that’s never been done before.

For the seventh consecutive year, Iroquois has earned the title of top fundraiser among Michigan schools for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Pennies for Patients program. As of May 20, the school had raised about $20,300 for LLS this year, breaking their previous fundraising record of more than $17,000 that they set in 2012.

But Iroquois students are not stopping there — they have bigger things in mind; if they reach their ultimate fundraising goal of $25,000, LLS will name one of its research projects after the school.

“We’re looking to become the first school in Michigan to accomplish that,” said sixth-grade counselor Lynn Dawson, one of the fundraising coordinators at Iroquois. “Our kids have become really attached to this cause over the years. Now, I think they all want to have their names on the research project that could end up finding a cure for cancer.”

Added Iroquois art teacher Michele Hunt, another fundraising coordinator, “It would mean a tremendous amount (if we reach our goal) because those research projects are the pathway to finding a cure. If Iroquois can help make that happen, then we can bring hope to patients who may feel as if there is no hope. Knowing that Iroquois was part of making such a huge, positive change in the world would be amazing.”

Iroquois was able to take a big step toward its goal with a fundraiser held at the school last week. On May 16, the student council hosted a spaghetti dinner and silent art auction featuring the artwork of Iroquois students, an event that brought in about $4,000 for LLS through ticket sales and art purchases.

Dawson said that it took “a real group effort” to put the fundraiser together. She noted that The Country Inn and Gordon Food Service donated all the food, while Iroquois’ cafeteria staff agreed to volunteer their time preparing everything in the kitchen. In addition, many students, parents and teachers pitched in by helping out before, during and after the event.

“Seeing how motivated our students are toward this fundraiser is very inspiring,” Hunt said, “(and their passion) can be contagious. The fundraiser begins to take on a life of its own at our school because of the enthusiasm that the kids have for this event.”

The remainder of Iroquois’ Pennies for Patients funding has been generated through various competitions held between individual school classrooms, Dawson said. She pointed out that, in addition to the reward of a free lunch provided by Olive Garden for the Michigan school that raises the most money, there is another reason Iroquois students have put in so much effort toward this cause.

“We’ve had a number of students that have come through our school who have had leukemia or lymphoma,” she said, “so this project is very near and dear to our kids’ hearts. I think they see how this is something that affects not just adults, but kids their own age, too.”

According to Andrea Greif, director of public relations for LLS, this is one of the key reasons Pennies for Patients has been such a successful program since it was founded in 1994.

“What makes this program so meaningful is that leukemia is the most common form of cancer among young people under the age of 20,” she explained. “So this is a program where kids can really help other kids who are coping with some form of blood cancer. It allows them to have a direct impact on their peers, and it teaches them about the importance of community service.”

Greif pointed out that there are about 27,000 participating schools in Pennies for Patients spread across the 61 LLS U.S. chapters. The program generates more than $30 million annually for LLS research grants, cutting-edge cancer therapies and treatments, and educational and support services for cancer patients. It is always held in the spring near the end of the school year, when schools are given about three weeks to raise as much money as possible.

According to Greif, the program is called Pennies for Patients because it started out as a campaign in which schools collected loose change in jars on behalf of LLS. However, it soon expanded tremendously after schools began branching out and developing more creative and original fundraising projects.

“This is one of our priority youth fundraising campaigns, and it’s been growing every single year,” Greif said. “It has a huge impact on our overall mission, which of course is finding a cure for cancer.”

And that’s exactly where Iroquois is looking to lend a hand. Dawson noted that the school is planning a few more Pennies for Patients events in the near future, including a possible fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings. Since the school is so close to its $25,000 target, the prevailing attitude seems to be, “Why stop now?”

“The kids definitely want to keep going,” Dawson said. “We’re less than $5,000 away from our goal right now, so I think it’s definitely doable. No school in Michigan has ever hit $25,000, but we believe that we can be the first.”

For more information on Iroquois’ Pennies for Patients campaign, contact Lynn Dawson at (586) 723-3750 or at, or contact Michele Hunt at (586) 723-3848 or at