What do school-age children know about raising money to help others?
Turns out quite a bit if they are students at Overpark Elementary in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and the cause is
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
For a decade, the students at Overpark Elementary have raised funds and awareness for St. Jude by taking part in the St. Jude Math-A-Thon. The St. Jude Math-A-Thon helps children in grades K-8 learn important math skills while teaching them the importance of helping others.
"This program means so much to the entire Overpark community. Every year, we have at least one St. Jude patient at our school," said Amy Gardner, who coordinates the school’s St. Jude Math-A-Thon. The St. Jude Math-A-Thon program began in 1978 and to date has raised more than $450 million.
Students at Overpark Elementary and their families are also familiar with St. Jude because their community is near Memphis, Tennessee, where St. Jude is located. "It is important to us because St. Jude is in our hometown,” Gardner said, “but we love knowing that St. Jude cares for kids all over the world."
Teachers, students and families take their fundraising seriously. In addition to working math problems, participants sell sweet tea, bring in spare change, have themed dress-up days and use social media to increase their donations to St. Jude.
At the end of the St. Jude Math-A-Thon program, Overpark Elementary students are rewarded with a giant theme party and dance as a big "thank you" for helping the kids of St. Jude.
The St. Jude Math-A-Thon program at Overpark was started by a teacher whose daughter was successfully treated at St. Jude. After a few years of coordinating the event, the teacher left Overpark, but not before recruiting Gardner to serve as the school’s new St. Jude Math-A-thon coordinator.
Not only did Gardner keep the program going, she has grown it every year. In the six years of her leadership, Overpark’s program has generated more than $147,000 for the St. Jude mission. In recognition of her work, Gardner was named St. Jude Math-A-Thon 2016 Coordinator of the Year at the annual St. Jude Volunteer Awards Dinner in July.
"As a teacher, it is fun to see young students get excited about math and learning new things," Gardner said. "I also love teaching young children an appreciation for philanthropy and helping others. My hope is this experience stays with them their entire lives."