The Ripple Effect
One selfish act triggers a groundswell of goodness
By Debbie Kane
It’s been said — and proven — time and again that adversity is a great teacher. Exeter students learned this firsthand last April when most of the money raised during the school’s annual Relay for Life fundraiser was stolen during the event. It’s a story that ultimately inspired the school community to come together for a common goal and created an opportunity for two students to do even greater good in communities beyond PEA. Exeter is one of many schools around the United States that hosts Relay for Life, an event combining remembrances of friends and family who’ve been affected by cancer with games and activities to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Exeter’s 2014 Relay for Life was co-chaired by Drew Goydan ’15 and Cornelia Smith ’15, who became involved as lowers in Langdell Hall, organizing their dorm’s Relay for Life team. Smith, a cancer survivor, was particularly motivated. ”I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer during the summer of 2013,” she says. ”I gained a whole new perspective on what it means to fight cancer and how important it is to support Relay for Life.”
The event, held in Love Gym, brought together 250 students, including 36 student teams representing different dorms, clubs and sports. For the price of a raffle ticket (or two or three), attendees stopped at various carnival-style booths, experimenting with stick-on henna tattoos, decorating cookies, hearing impromptu poetry, even trying to knock a cyclist off his stationary bike with a ball. The event raised $1,400 that night.
Later that evening, Liz Reyes, community service coordinator for the Exeter Social Service Organization (ESSO), received a text asking if she had the money that had been collected. She didn’t. ”The money was gone,” she says. ”Drew and Cornelia had done an amazing job organizing the event and it was tough for them. It was a learning experience for us all.”
The real learning, however, came after the theft.
Goydan and Smith emailed students to explain what had happened. During the next assembly, Principal Hassan discussed the theft as well, and Goydan and Smith appealed to students to donate again, this time with overwhelming results. ”We stood in Agora that Friday to collect donations and people just kept coming up to us with cash or their Lion Cards,” Goydan says. ”We re-raised the money in about 20 minutes. The generosity was amazing.” Additional donations poured in as word spread beyond the Exeter campus. A local couple with no affiliation to Exeter other than hearing about the theft during their church service gave Reyes a check for $100. Parents and grandparents of students sent contributions. Ultimately, $4,000 was donated to the American Cancer Society.
Then Dan Lukas ’89, who had been on campus for his reunion when the theft occurred, sent Principal Hassan a check for $1,300. Because the Relay for Life donation had been made up by that time, Hassan tasked Reyes to come up with a different use for the funds. Her idea: use the gift to fund two student grants, $700 each, to support personal non sibi efforts. ”I put together a request for proposal to get students to think about how they could use the money for nonprofits they’re involved with,” Reyes says, ”and asked them to explain how they would use the funds.”
The two students selected, Bennett Levy ’17 and Alexandria Shook ’15, submitted proposals that ”meet two different needs and can be started with the money,” Reyes says. ”Their efforts won’t stop once the money is used.”
Levy is spearheading a public education campaign to help inform high school students, parents and coaches about concussion, a brain injury with potentially devastating side effects. As a hockey player and son of a neurosurgeon, Levy says, ”There are misconceptions and relative disregard for concussions as potentially serious injuries.”
Bennett Levy '17Levy works with the Program for Understanding Childhood Concussion and Stroke (PUCCS), a nonprofit started by his father, Elad, that’s based in Buffalo, New York, Levy’s hometown. The non sibi grant money will be used to develop a public education campaign to educate at-risk high school athletes, coaches and parents about concussion signs and symptoms, recovery times and return-to-play protocols. The campaign includes presentations for student-athletes and coaches at public high schools in the Exeter area, informational videos, and two-sided player cards detailing the signs and symptoms of concussion and steps players and coaches should take before returning to play.
Shook is leading an effort to create a peer support system for children with autism. Her younger brother, William, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and suffered years of ostracism and bullying before their family found Sport-Social Las Vegas, an organization that helps children with autism and other special needs build social skills through arts, sports, music and classes.
”There’s a terrible pain in watching your only sibling struggling with something that people take for granted,” Shook says, ”something so important to a child: making friends.”
Working with Sport-Social Las Vegas to create an online matching system, Shook says, ”The program we are aiming to make is one that connects children ages 8 to 17 with autism and enables them to meet face-to-face. It is designed to try to foster friendships between children who are so often denied them.” The non sibi grant will go toward funding staff, who will provide trained supervision for child-to-child interactions. Shook says, ”It is a program to create real friendships, plain and simple.” Something she wishes her brother had been able to access earlier.
Levy’s and Shook’s projects, scheduled to be implemented this spring, not only benefit the audiences they’re serving, but Exeter as well. ”It’s an amazing opportunity for the students to act upon something they’re passionate about,” Reyes says. ”Both Bennett and Alex are using what they’re doing to educate other students.” For the entire Exeter community, it’s been a larger lesson in paying it forward. ”The theft was kind of the tragedy that kept on giving,” Goydan says. ”Like Winston Churchill said, ’Never let a good crisis go to waste.’”