Katie Kendall could complain. The Ben Lippen School senior’s teenage years began with a 2 1/2 year battle against leukemia. She doesn’t mind sharing that “It was really hard. It was painful. It was scary.” She could ask for sympathy. She’s only 17 years old, and has had to fight just to make it there. She could be selfish. Instead, she’s changing the world for the better by giving of herself to help kids who are where she was.
Since beating leukemia, Katie has worked to help others. She and her mom have volunteered with Happy Wheels, delivering toys to hospitalized kids. Katie has done interview after interview, sharing her story and the importance of Happy Wheels’ mission with poise and confidence which would be remarkable in a person twice her age. No one could say that wasn’t enough. Except Katie, who decided to do more.
While in treatment at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital, Katie got to know the people in the Child Life Department. Their mission is to, as Katie explained it, “make sure [patients and their families] are having the best experience they can possibly have in a place they don’t really want to be.” They keep the kids company, as friends. They explain what’s happening medically to the kids and their families in terms they can understand. They provide games, books, therapy pets, holiday celebrations, random entertainment and anything else they can think of to brighten the days for the kids and their families. They make sure no one fights alone.
“They do so much for the children’s hospital,” Katie said. “That’s why I wanted to start Dance Marathon at our school.” Katie heard from other students about Dance Marathon, a nationwide program which raises money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Locally, the Dance Marathon movement began with the University of South Carolina and has spread to nearly a dozen Columbia-area high schools. Katie decided to make Ben Lippen the newest member of the group.
“I contacted USC Dance Marathon, talked to Maggie Marshall, the head of mini-marathons,” Katie said. “She hooked me up, got me a team, and we got the ball rolling about 9 months ago.” The money raised by Ben Lippen’s marathon would, like the USC funds raised, go to support the Child Life Department at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.
Katie found support at Ben Lippen, as 10 other students formed an executive board, joining her in organizing and leading the event. Dozens more signed up to participate and helped raise money by asking friends and family for donations and participating in various fundraising events.
Elementary and middle school students were invited and joined in, with Katie and her team organizing a special portion of the marathon for them, including face painting, a limbo contest and ice cream.
Katie shared her own story with all those assembled for the event Saturday, explaining why the Child Life staff meant so much to her.
“When I was diagnosed, it was right before my 13th birthday. So on my birthday was my first chemo, which was not a very good present, so they brought me a different present,” she said, showing a photo of the Child Life staff singing to her and delivering a birthday present.
With the reveal of the fundraising total still to come, Katie said she and her team already felt they’d succeeded. “I am thrilled with anything that we raise. It’s going to go to the kids and that’s what I want,” she said. She also hopes the first Ben Lippen Dance Marathon will be the first of many. “I’m going to try to pass it on, pass the torch to the next.”
No one in the room disagreed that the event was already a success, but the reveal showed even better news than expected. A relatively small school and relatively small group of students. The first year for a fundraiser, with the task of educating people about what Dance Marathon is before ever asking for donations. So many challenges, but as Katie and the other leaders lifted high the cards showing the results, the cheers were loud. $7,468. Money that will change lives. Awareness raised, even more importantly, for a cause that changes lives. All because one young woman decided it should be done. For love. For hope. And always, every moment, every penny, for the kids.