Cancer Kids First Fair Lawn: FLHS Students Bring Nonprofit Organization to their Community
By Grace Murphy
Cancer Kids First, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the childhoods of pediatric cancer patients, has been rapidly growing over the past three years. According to the official Cancer Kids First website, there are currently over 18,000 volunteers, 55 partner hospitals in fourteen different countries, and over 20,000 patients helped so far.
Cancer Kids First (CKF) was founded in 2020 when then-fourteen-year-old Olivia Zhang of McLean, Virginia decided she wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with pediatric cancer. She is now the CEO and founder of the organization, and works to manage their service and fundraising programs, oversee the rest of her team and other chapters, and network with children’s hospitals and other businesses and organizations.
“I founded 501(c)3 nonprofit Cancer Kids First (CKF) due to the loss of two loved ones from cancer. Losing them caused great grief, but also sparked my passion for helping the childhood cancer community… Both of them were teachers and always fostered such a loving environment for their students. I wanted to honor them by embodying these traits and creating an environment that helped kids with cancer feel loved and inspired; that's how CKF was born,” Zhang said.
The organization allows different chapters to be created within a town, school, or community, and currently, over 70 chapters have been formed around the world. These chapter leaders find a children’s hospital to partner with and work with directors and ambassadors of CKF to continue CKF’s work in their own community.
In early 2021, three Fair Lawn High School juniors started their own chapter of CKF in hopes of spreading awareness of pediatric cancer and bringing happiness and a chance at a normal childhood to these patients.
“[The inspiration to create the chapter was] helping kids with cancer all around the world and not just in New Jersey achieve somewhat of a normal childhood. I wanted to help the kids feel joy so they do not have to think about their constantly being in the hospital all the time,” said the FLHS Junior and treasurer of the Cancer Kids First Fair Lawn chapter (CKFFL).
The moment the three officers of the Fair Lawn chapter learned about CKF, they were immediately drawn to the organization’s message and wanted to bring the organization to the Fair Lawn community. After gaining over 30 new members, consisting mainly of Fair Lawn High School students, the chapter began to plan events and fundraisers to donate to their partner hospital, St. Peter’s University Children’s Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
“In the summer, we did a card making activity outside so our volunteers could enjoy the nice weather, but also write nice messages to the kids that will brighten their days. We also were successful so far with doing restaurant night fundraisers with Panera, Chipotle, and Duck Donuts,” the FLHS junior treasurer said.
The responsibilities of the organization include planning fundraisers, such as restaurant nights or selling necklaces, hosting toy drives, making care packages and cards to send encouragement to young cancer patients, and spreading information about pediatric cancer. Through these fundraisers and donations, CKFFL was able to raise over $1,800 so far to donate to their partner hospital. However, certain circumstances have created challenges for the group with fundraising and interactions with the patients.
“The most challenging obstacle in running Cancer Kids First Fair Lawn is definitely the role COVID-19 has had on it. It is very difficult to plan in-person events and fundraisers while there are so many limits due to the coronavirus… It is also difficult to participate in hands-on activities with children at Saint Peter’s University hospital because we are not allowed to meet with them in person,” said FLHS junior and President of CKFFL.
Although the current state of the pandemic has posed some difficulties, including meeting patients or holding in-person fundraising events, that has not stopped CKFFL from achieving and exceeding their goals. Through the group’s hard work, they were able to donate over 100 items collected after one weekend from their May 2021 toy drive, send 90 cards to patients made last April, while raising approximately $320 from their September 2021 necklace sale.
In an interview, the president of CKFFL expressed her gratitude for finding CKF and what starting the program here at FLHS has meant for her:
“Seeing the Cancer Kids First website filled with images of cards, care packages, and actual patients smiling brightly truly encouraged me to file an application to open my own chapter in the town of Fair Lawn. I wanted to be associated with these benign actions and bring happiness to those who were struggling much more than me.”
The group continues to hold these events about once a month and hosts monthly meetings with all volunteers to gain feedback and suggestions on ideas for the organization. As for the future of CKF, each chapter will continue their work of fundraising and spreading awareness within their communities, while Zhang plans to further expand the organization’s impact.
“I have a lot of goals for CKF, but a general priority is enhancing our programs, funding, and volunteer system so it's sustainable. I want to be able to expand CKF to aid more low-income countries throughout the world, partner with like-minded organizations to serve thousands of patients, and help other youths find their passion for community service,” Zhang said.
To learn more or join the team:
Official CKF Website: https://www.cancerkidsfirst.org/
CKF Instagram: @cancerkidsfirst
CKFFL Website: https://linktr.ee/cancerkidsfirstfairlawn
CKFFL Instagram: @cancerkidsfirstfairlawn