Fighting Cancer: Power in numbers at Henning Elementary

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Tears streamed and emotions stirred at Henning Elementary Friday afternoon when 18 eager fourth-graders presented the school’s “Relay for Life” team captain and third-grade teacher Colin Wharton a massive check of $2608. 81 made out to the American Cancer Society.

According to Renee Barber, the part-time speech pathologist at Henning, Wharton had no previous knowledge that the students had raised the money and the event was certainly a “surprise.” Barber, who had a role coordinating both the exchange and team’s fundraising, has served basically as the team’s bookkeeper, weekly documenting the children’s progress, she said.

“The kids wanted to raise extra money for ‘Relay for Life,’” she said. “Mr. Wharton heads it up every year and he does a lot of work. They wanted to be able to contribute to that. They came up with an idea to do a raffle; we only got the sponsors for different products … They sold tickets for $2 apiece to anybody and everybody they knew.”

For thirty days the children checked in with her every Monday and would hand her whatever they had managed to accumulate.     

That sunny afternoon Wharton was called out his classroom, away from his third-grade students in the Center-Based Gifted program at Henning; his presence was requested in the rear of the school where “Field Day” was being held. Minutes after the loud music and the dancing party ceased, a voice called out from a microphone for Wharton who was chatting at a distance.

Within minutes, as he approached the huddled 18 fourth-graders hiding a humungous white check, every single one faced him, and then three students read brief but heart-warming speeches, thanking him for his leadership before handing him the check.

He was then given the microphone.

“Thank you to everyone that participated. This is true, true citizenship here. This is amazing,” he said, with a touch of restrained emotion in his voice. “… Anything to help find a cure for cancer. Good job guys and thank you so much on behalf of ‘Relay for life.’”

An explosion of cheer erupted after his heart-felt words were spoken, children and adults alike applauding loudly. However, he had to return to his classroom not long after being presented the check.

“I had no idea and I got to be honest, this has been a real challenging year for us. With all the changes in the county, it’s been really hard to do some fundraising. This is just a testament to our kids. This is why we do it, because the things that the kids learn from giving to others – that’s the true learning. So that’s just a thing of beauty. See I lost my mom about six years ago to cancer and that’s why I do this,” he said, still carrying the check through the school like a proud father.

Wharton will deposit the money on the first Tuesday of the month when a meeting for all team leaders sessions. Henning’s goal was to raise about $4500, but with this new addition, the number totals around $7,000, he confirmed.

“Last year we raised $10,000 and I didn’t think we’d get close,” said Wharton. “It’s just blown me away. … I give my heart and soul to these kids – and they know it, so they give back. They’re wonderful so I feel very blessed. They took my breath away today and I’m so proud of everyone at our school.”

To follow more extensively the school’s progress, visit www.relayforlife.org/courthouse and look for information regarding “Hope with Henning Hornets,” or call Henning Elementary at 743-3655.

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