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Mars Area students make an impact for Race for the Cure

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mars Area Middle School students show off their fund raising efforts for the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh’s Race for the Cure at Mars Area Middle School, Wednesday. Shown left to right: Meghana Jayaraman , 13, Nikki Hegerich, 8th grade science teacher and sponsor of charity committee, Donna Dallatore, physical education teacher, intramural sponsor, Grace Rihs 13, Jada Green, 13. Second row: Ashley Parham 14, Rachel Pasko, 13, Bret Rinaman 14, Kate Mathieu 13, Michaela Schrim 14 and Sydney Weiss 12. Front row: Lindsey Hayes 13, Sara Weigle 14 and Shon brown 14.

Look at the sponsors listed on commemorative T-shirts for Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh's Race for the Cure, and you'll find only one school district — Mars Area.

“The other sponsors are places like Macy's and Allegheny Health. We are definitely nothing like Macy's or Allegheny Health,” said Richard Cornell, a middle school principal who has been organizing fundraisers for the breast cancer organization since 2004.

This year, Mars Area students from kindergarten through eighth grade raised $12,181 for Susan G. Komen.

“They are in a class of their own when it comes to fundraising. They are the only school on our T-shirt. It earns them recognition,” said Julie Philp, sponsorship and event coordinator for Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh.

Because cancer impacts so many families, the effort appeals to many students, Cornell said.

One is Rachel Pasko, 13.

“This means a lot to me. I have had a family member, my great aunt, who was affected by breast cancer,” Pasko said.

Mars Area students started raising money for Komen in 2004 through Hats for Heroes, and since then, participation and the amount raised have grown.

In exchange for a donation, students can wear hats to school, which is normally not permitted. Students wear the hats, or bandannas, in solidarity with breast cancer patients, who often lose hair while undergoing chemotherapy.

The fundraising event started at Mars Area Middle School in 2004. It later moved to the Centennial School, attended by fifth- and sixth-graders.

It then moved to the Mars Area Elementary School. Two years ago, students at the Mars Area Primary Center, kindergartners and first graders who are 5 and 6, raised $1,448 for Susan G. Komen.

“It's been nice to get the children to think of giving. It's for people in need, and they learn about people in need,” said Principal Elizabeth McMahon.

The students usually collect the donations from their parents, McMahon said.

“There are many generous people in this district,” she said.

The primary center has undertaken other fundraising efforts, some of which McMahon says are for causes more tangible to young children than breast cancer.

During the Week of the Young Child in April, students participate in Stuff the Bus. They stuff a school bus full of diapers, which are taken to the Lighthouse Foundation, a food bank and transitional housing organization.

Next week, students will participate in Bundle Up Butler County, a winter coat drive.

At the middle school, where the Komen fundraising started, Hats for Heroes has become a tradition, Cornell said.

“It's part of our culture at the middle school. Parents give them money. Kids empty their piggy banks. It's amazing,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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