WHS Raises Awareness for Pediatric Cancer by Sending ‘Smiles for Cole’

October 3, 2014
by Jillian DiPersio, Windham High School Intern

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  This month that has taken on new meaning for students at Windham High School after they were made aware of the story of Cole Stoddard.  Cole, son of Windham Golden Brook School teacher, Michelle Stoddard, lost his battle with neuroblastoma at age five.

In honor of Cole and Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, the Windham High School Athletic Department and Jill Bartlett’s Student Leadership class took part in the initiative to raise awareness by organizing Blackout Cancer Week.  A week of awareness and fundraisers culminated in the annual “Blackout Cancer” varsity football game on September 26.

In the past, the Windham High athletic teams have done fundraisers for various types of adult cancers.  This year Athletic Director Bill Raycraft found the shocking statistic that 96 percent of all funding for cancer research goes to adult cancer, with only 4 percent going to pediatric.  Bartlett goes on to explain that part of the reason so little funding goes to pediatric cancer is because “they don’t have the kids to advocate for themselves.”

As a result of this realization, the Windham Athletic Department came together on a united front for pediatric cancer awareness.  “We knew that someone in the community had been affected by childhood cancer, so we wanted to make sure that we gave back to that specific area of cancer,” explained WHS senior and member of Bartlett’s Student Leadership class, Kevin Anderson.  The class itself is made up of student athletes from every fall sport.  As a result, “every team can be involved and every team does something different (to raise awareness),” explained Basie Bostic, another senior in Bartlett’s class.

Michelle Stoddard came in and spoke with Bartlett’s class.  Bartlett says Stoddard “was very empowering to make us want to do something for pediatric cancer awareness.  She was a great inspiration, she and her whole family.”  Stoddard was thrilled to see the students’ enthusiasm for the cause.  “They all brought their own ideas; they were just going for it.  They really took ownership of the whole event.”

In order to raise money and, even more importantly, awareness for the cause, every team dedicated their games the last week in September to Cole.  As gold is the color designated to pediatric cancer, there were gold center field lines and gold game balls.  The teams put out moneyboxes for donations.  At school, the Student Leadership class put out a jar for a coin drive called “Smiles for Cole” so that WHS students could donate spare change to the cause.  There were also raffles going on throughout the week for Patriots tickets and a 1969 Camero.

All proceeds from the games went to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Sophia’s Fund.  “St. Baldrick’s is a volunteer-based organization, so it has such minimal amount of money going to administrative fees.  It’s all going to research,” said Bartlett.  She adds that to date St. Baldrick’s has raised $34 million this year with 7,000 grants in 300 hospitals in 22 countries, all toward pediatric cancer research.  Sophia’s Fund helps give comfort to families, says Bartlett.  “For the Stoddard’s every Friday or every other Friday they’d come around they just randomly got a gift card one day for Dunkin’ Donuts and it was for mom and dad to have a chance to get out of the house and get a cup of coffee,” Bartlett explained.

Windham recognized members of the community who have been touched by pediatric cancer at half time during the Blackout Cancer varsity football game.  These members included C.J. DiPrima, a survivor of pediatric cancer; Michelle Stoddard with her husband and daughter, Riley Simmons, another survivor of pediatric cancer; and Joey Bemister representing his brother C.J., who also survived childhood cancer.

Michelle Stoddard said, “I can’t believe how overwhelming it is.  I’ll go home tonight and cry.”  She is thankful that “Windham is such a community.  It’s not just a town but it has a community feel.  So many people came out tonight just for the cause.”  She was thrilled to see that so many of her students, past and present, attended the game.  She even says that one of her students who graduated five years ago came to the game just because he saw Cole’s name.

She describes Windham High’s “Blackout Week” as “groundbreaking.  This is the first high school in the area to do this.”  She hopes that this will lead to more schools in the area holding large-scale events for pediatric cancer awareness.  For the students this has been a gratifying experience.  “It’s really nice to do something bigger than ourselves, something that’s going to impact people’s lives,” said Rachel Lanouette, a WHS senior and member of Bartlett’s Student Leadership class.

When Cole was going through treatment he would tell his parents to “smile, be happy.”  If you’d like to send a smile to Cole, Stoddard urges you to visit stbaldricks.org and type in “Smiles for Cole” to donate.