ST. PETERSBURG - Shorecrest pre-schooler Manny Escamilla and Headmaster Mike Murphy stood on an outdoor stage together Friday before 900 students to help launch the Relay for Life fund raiser at the St. Petersburg prep school.
The school's fund raiser, for the American Cancer Society, has raised a half-million dollars in five years. That is no small accomplishment.
But the yearly event also has taken on special meaning for many of the participants, from Murphy to 3-year-old Manny. Relay for Life, which raises money for cancer research, has come to represent hope for the tight-knit Shorecrest community, where the lives of several families have been touched by cancer.
Murphy lost his own child to cancer 17 years ago. He also recently underwent treatment for prostate cancer.
Manny made one of his first visits back to school Friday, after undergoing treatment for leukemia. The youngster stood on the stage and received a warm welcome from the entire student body plus faculty and parent organizers. Manny then sat with other children in the Early Childhood program to watch the ceremony.
It was a moving moment for everyone there.
At the Shorecrest ceremony, every student took one lap around the athletic field. Seniors took the hands of the youngest kids. Everyone had a good time.
More activities followed at 3 p.m., when Shorecrest invited the public to an afternoon and evening of festivities on the campus, with games, contests and scavenger hunts.
Friday morning, the headmaster reminded students that they were gathered "to celebrate, to remember, to fight back." That is the motto for Relay for Life, which invites people to celebrate the lives of loved ones who've battled cancer, remember those who've lost their lives, and to fight back against the disease.
Murphy said the annual fund raiser is a powerful way to bring Shorecrest families together for a common cause and to show students the value of giving back to their communities. The 2011 goal is to raise more than $60,000.
Senior Austin Fuss and his mother, Shari Fuss, co-chaired this year's event. Shari is a breast cancer survivor. Austin said that the work is rewarding because he knows that with each dollar raised, he and the other volunteers are making a difference in helping with cancer research.
Ali Appelbaum, another student volunteer, said she first got involved because her mom, Judy, is a cancer survivor. Ali and Judy partnered to work on team development and recruitment.
"This really needs to come to an end," said Ali, an 8th-grader, about the disease that has afflicted her mom, other relatives and friends. "It is hurting so many people."
"This is a really good thing to teach our kids," added Judy. "Shorecrest teaches these kids to give back. It is from the heart and from the gut. It has meaning and purpose for them."