LITHIA — When they learned last year that three teachers from Lithia elementary schools were battling cancer, their fellow teachers wanted to find some way to help.
"When something affects one of us, it affects all of us," said Maria Peregolise, who teaches second grade at FishHawk Creek Elementary School.
It started with about 15 teachers brainstorming ideas in a classroom. With the help of volunteers, businesses and other community members, it's turned into the Raizing Hope benefit concert and dinner Saturday at the Palmetto Club, featuring band Raizing Cain.
Proceeds will benefit the three teachers, second-grade teacher Jane Farkas and media specialist Debbie Crawford of FishHawk Creek, and second-grade teacher Jackie Waluzak from Bevis Elementary School.
"This community is coming out in full force," Peregolise said.
Ken Jones, of the band Raizing Cain, got involved initially because Farkas had been one of his daughter's favorite teachers in elementary school. Jones put the other teachers in touch with Kelly Rowjohn, Friends of FishHawk founder, to help a local family that lost their home just before Christmas.
Since then, Friends of FishHawk has helped others in the community by taking meals to people who have had surgery, or lining the streets to welcome soldiers returning home. They've collected donations for Mary & Martha House and A Kid's Place, and raised money to buy feed for a starving horse.
"Everything that comes up, there is a tremendous amount of support," Rowjohn said. "Anything they can do."
The support the teachers have found has been overwhelming, said Waluzak, who has been receiving chemotherapy treatments for colorectal cancer.
Even before the planning for Saturday's event began, friends, parents, former and current students, and others in the community have helped by bringing Waluzak meals when she has been too tired to cook after chemotherapy, or by bringing cards or other little gifts to lift her spirits. Her sister, niece and her husband's family will support her at the concert.
"It's really helped me stay strong and positive through this whole thing," she said. "Some of the worst days when I've felt awful, having a little surprise made my day. It made me feel so much better, knowing all the people supporting me."
The teachers' struggles have hit home for many — like Jones, who lost his mother to cancer.
"It was a horrible experience," he said. "It's great when people do everything they can to try and help."
When Peregolise learned what her friends and colleagues were going through, one of her first reactions was anger and a feeling of injustice. After all, she said, they are good people who bring good things to the community.
"How can this be the effect?" she wondered. "But I've realized the effect is not the cancer. The effect is how all these people come out of the woodwork to help."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]