By Denise Dick
Students brought their pennies and laced up their running shoes for Harding Elementary Schools Rockin’ Race for Cancer.
“This is our first big community- service project to really give back to the community,” said Harding Elementary School Principal Susan Koulianos. “The whole school is participating.”
The school has about 440 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
The event Wednesday at the Rayen Stadium was a collaboration between Harding and the Rotary Club of Youngstown and money raised benefits the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health Center. The money will help pay medical expenses for breast cancer patients who don’t have health insurance.
Students collected donations for each quarter-mile lap they completed in 20 minutes and also brought in money from their own piggy banks, Koulianos said.
“The kids want to give back,” she said, and they have a special connection to Dr. Rashid Abdu for whose late wife the breast-care center is named. Joanie Abdu died of breast cancer in 1994.
Dr. Abdu started mentoring students at the school many years ago and visits weekly.
“I sit and talk with them, and sometimes just listen,” he said.
When he sees the city’s young people, he sees future doctors, lawyers, nurses, journalists and good citizens. Even if they don’t yet understand the significance of giving back to the community, participating at a young age lays that foundation for when they are older, he said.
Dr. Abdu was moved by the children’s participation in the event.
“It’s just beautiful,” he said.
Koulianos said mentors from the Rotary Club of Youngstown also mentor Harding students weekly.
Third-graders Treshawn Davis, 10, Rayon Thomas, 9, Ravyn Sims, 8, Ke’Niyah Mitchell, 9, Jordan Banks, 9, and Monayja Pearsonhall, 10, sat in the stadium stands dressed in their Rockin’ Race for Cancer T-shirts, waiting for their turns on the track.
“I’m going to do five laps,” pronounced Ke’Niyah.
Ravyn said she collected pledges of $1 per lap and planned to do as many as she could.
Ravyn had an aunt who died of cancer.
Rayon said the students were participating in the event “to help people that have cancer to get better.”