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California Area students change things up in war against cancer

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:10 p.m.
Participants in California Area High School's Pennies-for-Patients collection included (from left) teacher Tiffany Rubino, sophomore Jordan Rossell, junior Madison Dobas and teacher Lynne Roy.
Participants in California Area High School's Pennies-for-Patients collection included (from left) teacher Tiffany Rubino, sophomore Jordan Rossell, junior Madison Dobas and teacher Lynne Roy.

Save those pennies. They do add up.

As a sophomore at California Area High School last year, Madison Dobas tossed extra change into a Pennies-for-Patients collection box during the school's annual fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania. This year, however, the schoolwide fundraising effort took on extra meaning for Dobas.

“I made a small contribution last year,” Dobas said, “but the fundraising effort was more important to me this year and hit home since my father passed away from cancer in November. Because of what I and my family went through, I understood more about the importance of the program; I saw how tough it is on families and it was important for me to reach out to others who have gone through or are going through the same thing; this is something I would never wish on anyone.”

At the tanning salon where Dobas works, she set up a collection box, asking customers to contribute pennies or any loose change for the aptly named Pennies-for-Patients program. Through her collection efforts and her own contribution, she was able to donate in the neighborhood of $150, but added a considerable amount of loose change from an unexpected source, she said, smiling as she explained.

“My dad had saved a lot of loose change, and I thought, ‘What better place for the coins than contributing them in his memory?'”

During the monthlong February drive, as the region suffered from a blustery, snowy and frigid winter, things heated up at California, with a horse race and … war!

“Cancer touches so many people and we put the challenge to our students and faculty,” said 10-year teacher Lynne Roy, in her first year coordinating the event. “But instead of having students and faculty just donate money, we made a game out of it combining the horse race and war. Everyone goes to the cafeteria and we placed pictures of horses, with each team's name, on a wall outside the cafeteria. On a daily basis, based on that day's contributions, we moved the horses up and down, back and forth. That visual enabled everyone to see who was winning and who was behind.”

However, if one teacher's collection far surpassed others, amounts for $1, $5, $10 or $20 bills deposited into that jar were deducted from the total, resulting in a neck-and-neck race to the finish.

“Running the contest like a horse race turned out to be a great idea,” added Roy, who teaches geometry, trigonometry, Algebra III and Integrated Math III. “Students could see how much was in any jar and contribute a bill to reduce that team's total. This gave everyone an opportunity to play and win. It was like cheating to reduce a team's total. Students bought into the game, as did our faculty. I am extremely proud of the faculty and students. We have 300 students in high school and collected over $5,000, including some coins from Aruba.”

Originally organized through and sponsored by the National Honor Society, Pennies-for-Patients touches the emotions of many students and/or faculty members who have been affected by cancer, including Roy, whose mother, Ruth Roy, after being diagnosed with leukemia in 1999, passed away from breast cancer in June 2012. Students in high school at that time were aware of what happened and saw how it affected her. Because of what she experienced, she agreed to coordinate the program, and the staff quickly jumped on board.

“After Madison's father (Darrell) passed away, she came to me and asked how I got through it,” added Roy, whose father, Robert, passed away in 2011. “I explained that I have my family's farm and I had to get up every day. I had no choice. You have to find a reason to go through every day. I told her this would be a tough year for her and that it would be a good program for her to get involved with, to see how others may be helped. I said to her, ‘You will understand and appreciate everything later.'”

Like Dobas, sophomore Jordan Rossell was a member of Roy's team, aptly named Repeat Roy because of her three-year winning streak — now extended to four years.

“I chose Miss Roy's team because she won the last three years. I went with a proven winner,” Rossell laughed. “Instead of taking my spare change to the bank, I saved it and asked members of my family to contribute and donated everything to the cause. People who are affected with cancer benefit, and you can see they need the support. Since it is such a personal issue with Miss Roy and because she is one of my teachers, for me to participate and contribute is like paying her back for all she does in the classroom.”

“We have been doing this program for several years,” Renegades' teacher-in-chief and English teacher Tiffany Rubino added. “We put a new spin on it and made it more fun. As we played ‘war,' there was not one clear winner and the students became more involved with the horse race and deducting money from a leading team's total. They loved coming in my room and dropping bills in the bucket to subtract from our total. I sold candy and had a gumball machine in my room, trying anything to get the kids to donate, and everyone was enthusiastic about the entire project.”

In extending her winning skein, Repeat Roy, with the team collectively riding Rambo to the finish line, collected $1,135.06, outdistancing Rubino's Renegades ($957.26) by nearly $200.

At the March 19 school assembly where Roy presented the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society with $5,067.75, eclipsing the school's previous high of $1,657, banners were awarded to teams collecting $300-$399 (gold), $200-$299 (silver), and $100-$199 (bronze).

But Roy has one perplexing question remaining: “What are we going to do with the coins from Aruba that were placed in one jar?”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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