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2018 Fall/Winter Highlights of Hope

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PURPLE COMMUNITY DUNCAN

PURPLE COMMUNITY DUNCAN LAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL — SUPPORTING CANCER RESEARCH ACROSS GENERATIONS Duncan Lake Middle School in Caledonia, Michigan, sits tucked away between sprawling farmland and rolling country roads. From the outside, its brown brick building looks like an average middle school anywhere in the United States, but its students have achieved something extraordinary. For more than a decade, the school’s student council has planned and hosted an event that has inspired their quiet, rural community and raised more than 0,000 to benefit cancer research at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI). By working together and passing the torch to successive generations, the students at Duncan Lake have redefined what young people can do when their hearts and minds are united by a common cause. HANNAH JABLONSKI Hannah Jablonski, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, remembers being a creative, expressive eighth-grader at Duncan Lake. As a member of the school’s student council, she worked with her classmates to plan and organize the very first Cancer Walk in 2008. “It all started because we wanted to do something to give back and support good causes, and because we knew a lot of people were affected by cancer, we decided to do the first Cancer Walk,” Jablonski said. “It was such a good experience. When you’re a student and you have the freedom to plan an event like this, and you know that you can make a difference in the world, it’s really impactful.” Students leading the way Elizabeth Alexander, enrichment coordinator at Duncan Lake, has worked for the past 10 years with students like Jablonski to help them plan their Cancer Walk. Since the very first event, Alexander has been impressed with the students’ ability to take charge of their event and take pride in their work. “When you’re a student and you have the freedom to plan an event like this, and you know that you can make a difference in the world, it’s really impactful.” - Hannah Jablonski “It’s very important that the Cancer Walk is student-run and that they have a chance to lead,” Alexander said. “Every year you can see the sixth-graders falling in love with the event and getting excited about how they can support cancer research, and the cool thing is, when those enthusiastic kids get to eighth-grade, they are the leaders taking charge.” In addition to planning and executing a successful event, students at Duncan Lake also make it a point to come up with some out-of-the-box fundraising ideas and have one rule — the crazier the better. “Our students come up with some pretty interesting fundraising ideas,” Alexander said. “We’ve had a teacher dunk tank, teachers getting slimed, unicycle jousting, cupcake wars, sponge toss wars and we’ve even had a teacher with a fear of snakes agree to wear a student’s pet snake around his neck if the fundraising goal was met. The kids get creative.” Unified behind a powerful cause Since the very first Cancer Walk was organized by Jablonski and her classmates, the event has become a source of fun, comradery and community that has unified students, teachers and their families and friends behind an important mission. “This event really shows kids that they can give back to their community and that creating change is doable,” Alexander said. “Personally, I lost two family members to cancer in the last few years, and this event is a source of hope — hope that the Institute’s researchers might one day find a treatment or cure that could help people survive.” 20 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

DUNCAN LAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL WAS AWARDED A CAROL VAN ANDEL ANGEL OF EXCELLENCE AWARD IN 2018 FOR THEIR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT & IMPRESSIVE FUNDRAISING EFFORTS THAT BENEFIT CANCER RESEARCH AT VAN ANDEL RESEARCH INSTITUTE. Jablonski is proud that the Cancer Walk gives so many people hope for the future, and she continues to spread the message all these years later. While in college, Alexander surprised Jablonski by inviting her to speak at a pep rally and say a few words about the event she helped create. Jablonski was shocked that Alexander had remembered her after all these years and that the small event she and her classmates had organized had raised more than six figures. “It’s really an inspiration to know that a few kids in middle school can organize an event, raise an impressive amount of money and make a difference in the lives of people living with cancer,” Jablonski said. “I have always believed that you get as much as you give into the world, and these kids are giving a lot.” If you are interested in getting involved with Purple Community, please contact Ashley Owen at ashley.owen@vai.org. (LEFT) RYAN GRAHAM, PRINCIPAL AT DUNCAN LAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL & ELIZABETH ALEXANDER; (RIGHT) DUNCAN LAKE MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS CELEBRATE AT THEIR ANNUAL CANCER WALK. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 21

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