Nephew's fight drives Math-A-Thon coordinator

Personal experience has a way of quickly bringing things into focus. For Jennifer Chandler, watching her 12-year-old nephew struggle with Hodgkin’s disease as a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was a painful experience she will never forget.

It was also an event that became a real-life catalyst in her work now as a Math-A-Thon coordinator for St. Jude.

“I have a personal interest in making our program a success,” says Chandler. “When something like this touches your family it makes you want to do everything you can.”

Chandler, a teacher at Rutherford Elementary in Rutherford, Tenn., has been a Math-A-Thon coordinator for three years. In that time she has used the power of personal experience as a tool for encouraging participation in her Math-A-Thon program.

Chandler says she tries to dedicate each Math-A-Thon campaign to someone in or around the school who has battled cancer or who is currently struggling with the disease. She’s had a former student who was a patient at St. Jude as well as a current student who is being treated at the hospital. Chandler says she’s also dedicated Math-A-Thons to employees of the school who have fought breast cancer.

“It really motivates the kids when they feel like they are working for someone they know,” says Chandler. “It just makes the program real for them.”

In kicking off the program each year, Chandler gathers the kids to watch the Math-A-Thon video and talk about the prizes available. But she says she also spends time trying to help the kids grasp what they’re working for and how fortunate they are.

“More than anything, I want our children to understand that they should be grateful for the health that they’ve been blessed with,” says Chandler. “I think that’s one of the most valuable components of the program.”

Each year, Chandler creates a special recognition bulletin board in the school to display the names of the kids who turn in money for the program. She’s also worked out a special deal with a local business to provide pizza for an ending pizza party for participants.

“It’s a special project and I want the kids to know they’ve done something special,” she says.

For Chandler, it’s all a part of using Math-A-Thon to create a personal experience for her kids that will instill in them an appreciation for life and a joy in helping others.

“We try to tell our children to put themselves in the place of the kids at St. Jude, because you never know when that kind of struggle can be a part of your life.”


January 2004