The race is on

K-Kids in Pennsylvania raise money for cancer research.

Story by Lori Roberts

For the past 15 years, students at Elk Lake Elementary School in Springville, Pennsylvania, have taken steps to fight cancer. Each year, the school holds a Mini Relay For Life in its gymnasium, where fifth and sixth graders raise money to fight the disease that seems to touch someone in everyone’s life.

“We thought this would be a great way to get the kids involved,” says Louise Hicks, a now-retired kindergarten teacher at the school who helps organize the relay. “Because it’s never too young to make a difference.”

The relay started in 2004 as a senior project for Heather Shaddack, who was then a senior at the school. Shaddack, now Heather Carpenter, started the school’s K-Kids club. Shaddack’s mother, Ginger Shaddack, was teaching kindergarten as well, and she and Hicks both were on a Relay For Life team. Together, the three decided to create a mini relay to give the K-Kids and their classmates a chance to have fun while raising money for cancer patients.


The relay started with about 20 participants, but today the event — still sponsored by the K-Kids — fills the gym. The music teacher serves as the DJ. Participants raise money through donations, T-shirt sales, bake sales and basket raffles. On relay day, community members come to cheer. Cancer patients and survivors play a special role, introducing themselves and forming a ring around the relay runners for a lap around the gym, complete with high fives.

When the relay is finished, each participant gets a glow stick and takes a few moments to reflect on those who are still fighting the disease. Afterward, there are games. The winners are announced, and a few lucky ones throw pies in the faces of brave teacher volunteers. The top two winners get the real prize: They can throw pies in the face of the principal, who takes it like a pro.

The 2019 event, held in November, raised more than US$23,000, bringing the 15-year total to more than $150,000, Hicks says. It’s a fun event, with serious undertones.

“So many kids have been touched by cancer,” she says. “We’ve had a participant who had cancer when she was 3 years old, and now she participates in the relay. We had a survivor whose cancer began when she was 2, and she graduated from high school this year.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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