A wave of gold washed over some high schools in the Fredericksburg region last month.
Stickers of gold ribbons were attached to helmets of football players and uniforms of cross-country runners, field hockey and volleyball teams. During a Sept. 6 football game at Caroline High School, cheerleaders wore crowns and carried wands.
“This was our first-ever gold-out game, and it was a success,” said Gabbi Thibodeau, a senior at Caroline. “We are aiming to have more gold-out games for other sports throughout the year.”
Gold is the color of pediatric cancer, and September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death by disease for children in the U.S., and 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday, according to the American Childhood Cancer Organization.
Five area high schools raised awareness of pediatric cancer by holding gold-out games and other events during September as part of the Heart of Gold campaign. Several elementary schools also joined in the effort.
High-school student representatives worked with Andie McConnell, executive director of the Fairy Godmother Project, a Fredericksburg based organization that helps families of children with cancer.
“We have always tried to find ways to raise awareness, and we often are asked how we can involve teens, and this just seemed the perfect way to do both,” McConnell said. “Many of them wanted to do more, and I told them to take it slow because anything they did will raise awareness.”
Currently, there are 15 families in the Fredericksburg area with children being treated for cancer, McConnell said. Another 15 are grieving the loss of a child, and the Fairy Godmother Project is adding support groups for those in remission as well as the siblings of those affected.
Keelan Crane, a junior at Colonial Forge High School, heard about the fairy godmothers when her mother helped cooked meals for families. Volunteers with the organization also provide help with yard work and household chores so parents can devote their time and energy to their child’s care.
“At the time, I hadn’t even realized that kids living close to me had pediatric cancer,” Keelan said.
Keelan organized a gold-out tailgate and display during Colonial Forge’s Sept. 27 game at Brooke Point High School. It was the second time in two weeks that hundreds of Colonial Forge students decked out in gold.
Noah Oltman, a junior at Stafford High School, got involved with the Heart of Gold campaign the same way as Keelan. His mother has helped with the Fairy Godmother Project, and he wanted to do his part by selling bracelets and ribbons for students and staff.
He also was glad to answer questions about the cause.
“My answer has been the same,” he said. “Many children who are diagnosed with cancer are around my age or younger. To know that many of them pass away before experiencing important events in their lives, such as graduating, deeply influenced my decision to become active in the campaign.”
Addison Lowman said Courtland High School had held gold-out games in the past, but this year’s was particularly meaningful.
“We have a student who won his battle with childhood cancer and is doing very well,” she gushed. “This is just such an amazing cause to be fundraising and raising awareness for.”
Thomas McCloskey, a senior at Riverbend High School, also has rallied students to make gold banners, sell gold bracelets and distribute themed items for gold-out day. His father, James, is a member of the Fairy Godmother Project board, and Thomas jumped at the chance to help.
“The work they do is life-changing and brings so much good to our local communities,” Thomas said.
He is working with fellow student Madison Herndon to design a shirt to sell at school. Profits will help the Fairy Godmother Project.
The Heart of Gold campaign has been a joint effort of the fairy godmothers and the Strong for Dom Foundation, a local organization in memory of Dominic Thomas Beltran, who was 6 when he died of a rare but lethal form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma. Even though he lived with the cancer and its treatments for much of his life, “he taught us how to ‘stay strong,’ ” according to the website of the foundation, which raises awareness and money for research.
For this year’s Heart of Gold campaign, Margaret Beltran and her team of volunteers from Strong for Dom assembled 2,250 ribbons, which were distributed to local schools.