Decatur High School, GA

Team Today’s Trek to Thousands

Students work to fundraise for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

“We’re raising $60,000.” The words hung in the air for a second. Then, the girls turned to each other and laughed.

“Right now, I’m sitting here and my heart is just like, ‘Oh my god. That’s $60,000,’” freshman Sydney Williams said.

Williams and freshman Ella Talmadge make up a two-person Students of the Year (SOY) team. SOY, a seven week fundraising challenge, raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). They first heard of SOY through an email and decided to apply.

Information courtesy of Infographic by Gwynivere Schooler

The LLS’s mission features research and outreach work to help families currently undergoing treatment and in remission from blood cancers. SOY programs across the country help fund advancements in blood cancer research, and SOY hopes to raise at least 10 million dollars across the country. The team who raises the most money earns the title of “Student(s) of the Year.”

After they applied to the program, ‘Team Today’ was born. Williams and Talmadge’s campaign aims to raise $60,000 dollars between Jan. 12 and March 3. Currently, the girls are in the planning stages of their campaign.

So far for Williams and Talmadge, the experience seems to be beneficial on both sides.

“We learn a lot from everything we do, but we’re also trying to raise money for the foundation,” Williams said. “They benefit, but we also benefit from it. It’s a win-win experience.”

LLS Senior Manager of Special Events Chantal Robertson meets with Talmadge and Williams, along with the rest of the other Georgia teams, to offer support and ensure the campaign is running smoothly.

“I am there to help every single step of the way, to celebrate the successes but also to help troubleshoot some of the roadblocks,” Robertson said.

LLS is an organization that is close to Robertson’s heart.

Information courtesy of Infographic by Gwynivere Schooler

“LLS is truly making a difference, absolutely saving lives,” she said. “I have met people that, because of the therapies that LLS has funded and gotten approved through the FDA, they’re alive and here today.”

Though neither Williams nor Talmadge have direct experience with blood cancer, both view the work they do with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a way of giving back.

“I just feel like if we were going to team up with someone, it should be them,” Williams said. “My grandfather suffered from ALS, obviously not a blood cancer, but it was terminal, and so I got to see first hand what a terminal illness could do to a family.”

By devoting their time to this cause, not only are Talmadge and Williams helping others, but they are quickly accumulating skills beyond their age.

“The entrepreneurship and the soft skills you can gain from it are huge,” Talmadge said. “A lot of people don’t know how to advocate for a cause they are working for. We’re learning it at 14. I mean, that’s crazy.”

Robertson also agrees that the SOY challenge teaches important skills early.

“Students just get so much leadership and experience out of this campaign,” Robertson said, specifically emphasizing financial literacy and project management skills.

Despite the new challenges they face, Talmadge and Williams feel fortunate that they get to learn all of this together.

“Just also knowing that Ella’s going with me, it helps a lot,” Williams said.

The feeling is mutual.

“Yeah, I’d hate to do this alone,” Talmadge said.


Contact the writer, Gwynivere Schooler, at [email protected]

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