The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) was founded 70 years ago by parents who lost their 16-year-old son to leukemia. Today, 1,000s of passionate, resourceful and driven high school students across the country are reinventing LLS for a new generation, as they honor the legacy of an organization founded by a family for families.
Through their participation in LLS's newest innovation in fundraising for its quest to cure blood cancers – a campaign called Students of the Year – students have raised millions since the campaign was launched nationally in 2017, contributing to LLS's investment of nearly $1.3 billion in lifesaving cancer research.
This year, hundreds of student candidates competed for the title of National Students of the Year. A team of three exemplary juniors at Jericho High School in Long Island, NY, captured the title, raising nearly $300,000 to support the mission of LLS. Drew Naiburg-Smith, 16, Benjamin Mark, 16, and Ryan Berger, 17, joined forces to lead the group in fundraising.
This superstar team was motivated by their deep desire to see a cure for cancer in their lifetime. As they have learned at a young age, almost everyone is touched by cancer and they are no exception. Honoring the legacy of LLS's founding family and their son Robbie, and their own family members touched by cancer, this unstoppable team of teens conceived and executed events to create awareness for LLS's legacy of impact and the urgent need to raise funds for new and better treatments for blood cancers, for generations to come.
Ryan and Drew both have had family members who have experienced blood cancer. In 2008, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the most lethal of the blood cancers, took the life of Ryan's grandfather just seven months after his diagnosis. Drew felt compelled to do her part to fight cancer in memory of her cousin, Lisa, who passed away from leukemia four years after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Benjamin and his family experienced their own scare with lymphoma in the midst of the Students of the Year campaign. Despite his family's positive outcome, blood cancer became much more real to Benjamin.
"The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has helped millions impacted by cancer throughout our 70-year history, funding breakthrough research to advance lifesaving treatments and cures, and providing support and advocacy for patients," said Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., LLS's president and CEO. "We know the founding family would be so proud to see their vision and legacy carried out by these amazing students, who are determined to help LLS find cancer cures. These students are the next generation of philanthropists and they are determined to have an impact."
The National Students of the Year runner-up is Jake Zaas, 15, of Durham Academy, Durham, NC, and his drive to achieve an ambitious fundraising goal was strikingly personal. His father is a survivor of AML and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2017. Jake was his stem cell donor. During his acceptance speech he brought goose bumps to everyone in the room, "LLS played a vital role in the discovery of the drug that was used to battle my dad's disease and I participated in Students of the Year so every family battling blood cancer ends up with a story that is as successful in the end as that of my family."
According to Ryan, Drew and Benjamin, "Unfortunately, everyone knows or loves someone who has been touched by cancer. We are all so inspired by the work LLS is doing to help cure blood cancers while helping patients with other cancers. LLS is at the forefront of the fight to cure cancer, and we are proud and honored to contribute and make a difference through Students of the Year. We know the cancer fight has been a challenge for decades. We know we are all stronger together and together we have made some progress with some treatments and some cures. We also know there is so much more that is needed. We wholeheartedly share LLS's goal to ensure that future generations know a world without cancer."
To learn more about the Students of the Year program and how it might work for you or someone you know, visit: www.studentsoftheyear.org.
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