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North Hills freshmen organize Cancer Awareness Week at school

By Mandy Fields Yokim
Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Two freshmen at North Hills Senior High School recently used their family experience with cancer to educate other students about the disease.

Margot California, 15, and Sarah Glatz, 14, both of Ross Township, organized a Cancer Awareness Week that took place Feb. 11 to 15 at their school. The girls sold beaded bracelets and rubber bracelets during lunch periods and raised $367 for Gilda's Club Western Pennsylvania.

The girls were inspired to spearhead the event through their involvement with Gilda's Teen Advisory Committee, or GTAC, an advocacy group of Gilda's Club Western Pennsylvania. Gilda's Club is a community resource that offers free support to people living with cancer, along with their families and friends.

This was the first weeklong cancer-awareness event at North Hills Senior High School.

“For their first year out, it was really fantastic. They both have been touched by cancer, so it was nice that they could engage their fellow students,” said Kathleen Petulla, youth program manager at Gilda's Club Western Pennsylvania.

“My mother had breast cancer, and she passed away in 2010. I wanted to give back to Gilda's Club because they helped me through my mother's illness,” Margot said.

Sarah shared this connection to Gilda's Club because her mother was one of the first members when it opened in 2006.

“My mom had breast cancer then, and she's been cancer free for the past couple of years,” Sarah said.

Each day during Cancer Awareness Week, the girls educated other students about a different cancer by putting up posters with statistics and prevention information. In addition, they assigned a color to each day and handed out corresponding ribbons — that they made themselves — to every student in the school, roughly 1,400 ribbons for each day. Video announcements were shown that told the stories of people at the school who had been affected by cancer.

“We had a lot of teachers who were willing to share their stories. That's how we came up with the color for each day; it was based on the feedback we got from them,” Margot said.

Monday was black for melanoma, Tuesday was blue for colon and prostate cancers, Wednesday was gold for childhood cancers, Thursday was pink for breast cancer, and Friday was red for all other types of cancer.

The girls encouraged other students to share stories of how they were affected by cancer by setting up an awareness board that would visually show people they were not alone in their experiences. Anyone affected by cancer could write on the board, and many students did.

“It was just amazing. They were really touched by how many people made the connection and showed support and had the courage to post their story on the wall,” said Holly Michael, ninth-grade GATE program coordinator and teacher adviser for the Cancer Awareness Week project.

Sarah said the pair plan to organize the event again.

Margot also was enthusiastic.

“We got so much support and participation,” Margot said. “It was really great.”

Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.



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