Student raises funds in honor of mother

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

If Avonworth High School had a course titled “Fund-raising for Good Causes,” Emma Ronk, a Class of '20 student, could write the course curriculum. She also might be teaching it.

Emma, 17, the daughter of Robert and the late Melissa Ronk (2008), took part in this year's drive by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) to raise funds and awareness for that organization's mission to find a cure for blood cancers.

“Our family and friends became involved with LLS shortly after my mom passed. We participate with many people from the community in the 'Light the Night' walk downtown every year, but the 'Students of the Year' campaign was the first direct experience I had with raising money and working with LLS,” Emma said.

Her motivation to become active in the fund-raiser was twofold, as she explained in a letter asking for support from friends and family:

“Not only will I be able to honor and help work for the patients, survivors and their families, but also for my mom, who passed away due to leukemia, as well. Her loss was the most devastating period in my life, and I intend to raise as much money as possible to help LLS carry out their mission and end blood cancers so that nobody else has to suffer through what my family and I did. Since I am striving in my campaign to honor my mom and all of the amazing and selfless things she did throughout her life, I named my team after her: Team Mel, short for Melissa.”

And so began her involvement with the seven-week 2019 'Students of the Year' campaign, with her personal goal to raise $15,000 or more between Jan. 19 and March 9.

She realized that she would need help to reach what she described as being her “lofty goal,” but she also assured everyone she contacted for support that she was “…more than willing to work hard to reach it. I cannot do it alone; therefore, I need your help.”

Emma's specific requests for help: Donations via her personal fund-raising page; Sharing of her message and fundraising link with contacts via e-mail or social media; Donations of silent auction items that could be used for the grand finale gala auction on March 9; Help in securing a corporate sponsorship.

She was determined to reach her goal, as difficult as she knew that it would be.

“I am thrilled and honored to be able to make a difference in my community because I know that leukemia and blood cancers have affected many members over the years.”

Among her strongest supporters were three local ladies who were key members of Team Mel.

The people who helped me the most with my campaign were Carolyn Colenbrander, Kim Ifft, and Beth Schmidt. They helped me with all of the logistics and behind-the-scenes tasks that I couldn't have done without them. They also spread the word to many people and were very involved with collecting and organizing my auction items. There were also a few of my friends from school who helped with the bracelet sales and they were very supportive of me and my campaign.”

Donations came from family members, neighbors, and friends; some businesses bought full or half pages in the grand finale event program ads. Emma raised a little over $1,000 from selling bracelets at school, and she had five silent auction items that people bid on at the grand finale.

One of the biggest donors, Connolly, Steele & Company, P.C., purchased a $1,000 sponsorship.

“It was called 'Cut-Out Cancer,' and at the grand finale event, there was a photo of me holding their logo in my hands!” Emma said.

The event, held on March 9 at La Mont, closed the campaigns. There, all of the candidates were announced and recognized for their efforts, and this year's winner was announced.

Thirteen teams participated, with 19 students in all, with over $150,000 raised. And how much of that amount was raised by Emma's Team Mel?

Far more than the $15,000 she hoped for at the beginning, with her total ending up at $23,933. Although that impressive total did not earn her team a first place, it definitely ranked her among the top fund-raisers at the ceremony.

Speaking of her experience, Emma said, “I hope to be able to continue working with LLS in the future. Not only was this campaign a great way to support their life-saving work, but it also was a great leadership opportunity for me.”

And commenting as one of her helpers, Ifft said, “Being a small part of Team Mel was an honor. Emma and her crew did an excellent job in regard to getting the word out about LLS, as well as fund-raising. I know how proud I am of Emma, and I know there is a beautiful angel in heaven with a smile from ear to ear.”