Proud as she is of her school, come September, the pull of family motivates Tatum, an 11th grader, to trade the school’s white, blue and silver for gold, the color of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Tatum chairs Team Up Kansas City, the local version of the Team Up For St. Jude program which gives high school students the opportunity to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through team sport activities and events.
Now in its second year, Team Up Kansas City — with 12 participating (and usually rival) high schools — has seen campaigns centered around varsity football games, soccer matches, ping-pong tournaments and volleyball games. Last year’s events raised $36,000; sponsorships and T-shirt sales helped push this year’s total to $55,000.
Coordinating so many events across the city is a lot of work, but 16-year-old Tatum says it’s worth it: “It’s my chance to give back to St. Jude.”
Tatum’s younger brother, Clayton, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 7 months old and referred to St. Jude, where his cancer was treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“We have done a thousand-plus hours of rehabilitative therapies and services and so forth,” says the siblings’ mother, Kristin. “Life might be tougher, it might not be what we expected, but we could have had a very different outcome. In our feeling of thankfulness, we just want to make sure that our kids give back.”
September begins with students tying gold ribbons to trees. It’s part of an awareness campaign that extends beyond the Team Up schools and into the city, where gold T-shirts are popular throughout the month.
The effort takes dedication, passion and a small army, and as a mother, Kristin appreciates the value of the students themselves leading Team Up. “There’s so much power in that younger generation and they’re so capable,” she says. “Give them something to be passionate about and they just run with it.”
As leader, Tatum estimates participation in Team Up for St. Jude has involved more than 1,000 people in Kansas City: “The impact that it’s had on the city as a whole, and especially the school communities, is more than I ever thought it could be.”
And Mom has good reason to feel confident the impact will grow, even after Tatum graduates, because her daughter Cimone, now in the 8th grade, plans to succeed her older sister as chairperson. “She’s as passionate as her sister about it,” Kristin says. “They’ve been such good sisters; they’ve been his protectors, his teachers, his cheerleaders. He loves his sisters and he loves his sisters’ friends.”
It’s just one of the most amazing places and I knew that, after Clayton was in remission, I couldn’t just stop working for the hospital. St. Jude was a huge part of my childhood and I spent a lot of my time at St. Jude. I just love it there.
Now 10 years old, Clayton has begun swimming competitively, joined his church’s choir and loves to play piano. “Considering how hard this little boy has had to work, he’s just so happy and joyful,” Kristin says.
And now that little brother is thriving, the sisters are driven by the gratitude they feel for St. Jude, and the experience they felt firsthand for the power of hope and healing.
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