Before pep rally practice begins, the football field at Fivay High School is teeming with teenagers goofing around as an Usher song blares over the speakers. One teen darts by in pink footie pajamas. A voice asks over the speaker, "Do we have a playlist of clean songs?" The teens break their chatter to shout in unison, "No!"
Moments later, they begin bustling and coordinating. Practice starts with some introductions, and student Kenny Walker listing statistics to the soon-to-be packed bleachers. "More than 577,000 die each year from cancer," Walker says into a microphone. "More than 1.6 million were diagnosed with cancer in 2012."
The rambunctious high school students are the committee members of the Time to Make a Difference Foundation, and the pep rally is their 2013 Relay for Life kickoff. The rally was intended to encourage Fivay students to help the Foundation meet its $10,000 fundraising goal. They offered incentives like five-minute dance parties between classes for every $1,000 raised.
Cancer has touched many on Fivay's campus. Science teacher Harriet Matthews is a four-time cancer survivor. Principal Angie Stone was diagnosed with endometrial cancer 13 years ago, and is now cancer-free. Members of the Fivay class of 2014 who have matriculated from Bayonet Point Middle School have lost one teacher per year to cancer since sixth grade.
When beloved Fivay chemistry teacher and baseball coach Justin Kunick died of colon cancer the morning of last year's Relay for Life, faculty sponsor and math teacher Jennifer Smith allowed 45 students to be a part of the Fivay team, as a way to cope with the loss.
"It was the most moving Ceremony of Hope that I've ever been a part of in 13 years," said Jean Harberts, a community representative for the Florida division of the American Cancer Society. "I'm blown away by Fivay."
Kunick's death inspired Foundation president 17-year-old Michael Chisholm to do something more.
"To have a whole school break down and cry as a family, not as individuals, is what really hit us the most," Chisholm said. "We're going to make a difference and make a change."
Chisholm started the Time to Make a Difference Foundation in December 2012 to extend cancer awareness and fundraising to last four months of the school year, rather than just the one day of Relay for Life.
"The staff (of Fivay High School) keep me under their wing, keep me out of trouble, keep my grades up, keep me in sports," Chisholm said. "They are like a family, and every time I lose somebody, it hurts me more than anybody else."
The Time to Make a Difference Foundation consists of 25 to 30 members and they meet twice weekly, spending many hours outside of school working on the cause.
"All of the free time we have, we dedicate to this," Chisholm said.
Though the Time to Make a Difference Foundation has just begun, Chisholm's involvement in Relay for Life is nothing new. Chisholm began attending events as a 12-year-old with his aunt Loraine Veharie, a bereavement clerk at HPH Hospice. He fell in love with the program and has participated every year since.
Last April, Fivay hosted its first Relay for Life. Chisholm, along with foundation vice president Vik Taylor and spokesperson Kenny Walker, had two days to put together a booth. There was a teacher dunk tank, a jail that students would pay to incarcerate their friends in, a DJ, and several corporate booths from companies like Publix and Blackjack Wraps.
Relay for Life is a community event that raises awareness and money for the American Cancer Society. The event first began in Tacoma, Wash., in 1986, raising $33,000 with 19 teams.
Since then, it has spread across the country, including eight Relays in Pasco County high schools and more than 350 Relay for Life events in Florida and Puerto Rico alone.
Members of relay teams, usually consisting of 10 to 15 people, take turns walking around a track for 18 hours. The path is lined with glowing luminarias bearing the names of people who have lost their lives to cancer.
The participants' exhaustion is meant to "parallel the physical effects, emotions and mental state of a cancer patient while undergoing treatment," Harberts said.
The 30 teams at last year's Relay for Life of Hudson at Fivay raised $74,000, with the Fivay students contributing about $2,000 of that amount. This year, the students want to quintuple their contribution. No high school in Pasco County has ever been able to raise $10,000, but Harberts believes that the Time to Make a Difference Foundation might be the first.
"With passion, one can accomplish anything," Harberts said.
The beauty of the Time to Make a Difference Foundation, according to administrators, is that it is run by passionate students.
"Kids will listen to their friends before they'll listen to anybody else about anything," said Fivay principal Stone. "The students are getting on board quickly."
"The thing that totally touched me is how motivated they are," said Smith, the faculty sponsor for the event at Fivay. "They are very ambitious, they have a huge goal, it's kind of unprecedented in this area. And they have all the confidence in the world they're going to reach it. They really want to stand up and give a good name to Fivay High School."
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.