SVHS Students Raise Funds to Fight Leukemia
Today, P.J. O’Toole is a senior at Smithson Valley High School and a full back on the Rangers football team.
But as a kindergartner at Bill Brown Elementary he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). He’s cancer free now, but the experience has turned him into an advocate for childhood cancer awareness.
In 2017, he raised $50,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), representing Comal ISD as a Student of the Year Candidate for LSS.
“No matter what you do, you can make a difference,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, just taking a little bit of your time and either donate or get involved in something will help save someone’s life.”
SVHS student involvement with LSS continues this year with the launch of the 2020 campaign by SVHS sophomore Avery Walker, who represents the district in the fourth year of this leadership development-and-philanthropy program, in which students are nominated and selected to participate in a fund-raising competition for seven weeks.
The candidate or candidate team which raises the most money at the end of the campaign is titled Student of the Year by the South Central Texas Chapter of LLS.
Walker follows in the footsteps of three previous mentors — including O’Toole — who successfully raised $100,803 over three years.
SVHS 2019 Student of the Year Candidate Kayla Friesenhahn raised $24,153 during her seven-week campaign and SVHS Candidate Tyler Miles raised $26,650.
“I really like everything that LLS has done for patients and their families,” said 16-year-old Friesenhahn. “Not only funding research and treatments, but also helping families get through the cancer process and treatments through financial aid. I think it is a really good cause and to see the money actually going where they say it is going, is really great a well.”
The experience is personal for her, as well.
Friesenhahn’s uncle passed away from leukemia at age 14, and her grandmother has been involved with LSS for many years.
As an eighth-grader at Smithson Valley Middle School, she listened to O’Toole speak to her National Junior Honor Society about his campaign and journey.
“I would love to see more students involved,” Friesenhahn said. “It’s crazy how much this program has grown over the last few years. It’s great to see how many area students have gotten involved and are making a difference.”
Miles, a 2019 SVHS graduate, took the challenge because his grandmother had leukemia and several family members also fought cancer diagnoses — plus, he said he enjoys helping others.
Meanwhile, Walker, who also is a member of SVHS’s dance team and a local fishing team, is busy planning and organizing her team before the campaign begins in January.
Her team’s name is “Hope for Peggy,” named for the grandmother who died of cancer before she was born.