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Successful problem solving


Sometimes fundraising happens like dominoes. It certainly did with Laura Dean, who was recently named St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s Math-A-Thon Coordinator of the Year.

The first domino was a Rocky Run Elementary School student named Carrie who knocked on Dean’s Fredericksburg, Virginia, door in 2003 and requested her sponsorship support in the school’s St. Jude Math-A-Thon program. Dean wasn’t familiar with the program, but Carrie did a fine job explaining it, so she pledged 10 cents a problem. Two weeks later — after Carrie finished 250 problems — Dean wrote her first check to St. Jude for $25.

Nearly 12 years and countless dominoes later, Dean’s St. Jude Math-A-Thon leadership has accounted for more than $100,000 in St. Jude contributions.

When her oldest son Jacob started kindergarten at Rocky Run in 2004, Dean was thrilled to have him participate in the program.

“We talked about how it is such a blessing to be healthy and that by participating in the St. Jude Math-A-Thon, we were helping those who had serious health issues,” Dean said. “We committed to doing the program every year.”

But that commitment was tested in 2006, when the school’s principal told the Parent Teacher Organization that her staff could no longer support the St. Jude fundraiser, and a parent volunteer was needed to continue.

“My hand was up in the air before she completed her thought,” Dean said.

My hand was up in the air before she completed her thought.

And so it began. Dean, who commutes 50 miles each way to her full-time job, became Stafford County’s “St. Jude Math-A-Thon Lady.” She wanted to give every child — including her youngest son Steven who had just started school — the chance to participate in the St. Jude Math-A-Thon.

“There was absolutely no way that I was going to sit by and allow our school to abandon such a great program,” she said.

Each year, Dean, 49, spends countless hours at home coordinating workbooks and prizes, counting money, contacting local businesses and more. She came up with tweaks to make the program more successful, like moving it from April to December. This takes advantage of the momentum of the annual St. Jude Thanks and Giving® campaign and gives students the chance to solicit more sponsorships while visiting extended family over the holidays. Along with the appeal of end-of-the-year tax deductions, the school consistently cleared its $10,000 goal. They also made the yearbook deadline, which helped promote the program.

Dean brought the St. Jude Math-A-Thon program to T. Benton Gayle Middle School when her sons left Rocky Run, and she has endeavored to take it to the other 16 elementary and middle schools in Stafford County. She jokes about her local celebrity status as “the St. Jude Math-A-Thon Lady.”

Dean is quick to credit her sons and her mother for their assistance, as well as the schools’ network of teachers and parents: “I have a complete army behind me.”

Her motivation is her two healthy sons, 15-year-old Jacob and 13-year-old Steven, and her father, who lost his own battle with cancer.

“I cannot fathom the pain and suffering of a child who has a catastrophic illness when they have just embarked on their life, to speak nothing of the pain and suffering of parents, siblings and other loved ones,” she said. “If the work we do with St. Jude Math-A-Thon brings a smile for just one moment to just one patient or family member, then it was worth every hour, day and year we put into it.”

Do you know of a school that would be able to turn solving math problems into support for St. Jude? Find out more about joining our St. Jude Math-A-Thon program.

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