A Classroom Full of Fundraising Champions

Arron Brown knows how to motivate a 4th grader: food. “Kids love working for food,” he says.

Arron is a fourth-grade teacher at Pembroke Intermediate School in Pembroke, New York. And there must be something in the water there, because people really go the extra mile to support Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It started in 2011 with Shooting for a Cure, an annual Pembroke High School Lady Dragons basketball game dedicated to raising funds for Roswell Park. Arron was moved by their intense work and the community’s involvement that he was inspired to do something on his own. So when Shooting started its own Ride For Roswell team four years ago, he joined.

He also brought it into his classroom. Arron sets up regular fundraising challenges for his fourth-graders. When they reach $100, they get a popcorn and kickball party, or at $250, pizza and wings. Other days, everyone who brings in a donation gets an ice cream sandwich or gets to sit in his chair for a day. Anything to thank the kids for going out of their way to help people in need.

He knows money is tight for many families in his school district, so when a kid can contribute $4, it’s a big deal. He helps them see how important that is and how it builds community. So they not only get the fun of the rewards — they see their impact.

“They see The Ride For Roswell commercials and say, ‘I helped with that, I did that.’ Being an integral part of their community, being a positive role model in their community, on some of the kids, it has a really big impact.”

Teaching The Importance of Giving Back

How does he explain Roswell Park to 9- and 10-year-olds? Unfortunately, most of them already know about it because family or friends have had cancer. But because of Shooting for a Cure, they also see it as the place where you get better. “They know we’re helping people who are fighting the fight right now,” Arron says.

So how does he explain The Ride? First, they see their teacher “running around like a crazy person for weeks ahead of time.” But then he explains all the things the rest of us love about The Ride.

“I explain The Ride to them as the community coming together, riding their bikes, going out seeing beautiful parts of Western New York, hanging out with friends and really just getting out there and spending time as a community for this great cause.”

What are his fundraising tips? Arron goes back to that most basic of motivators: food. He pays for it out of his own pocket, but it’s worth it because the kids feel invested in their community. Plus, they love helping others. But he also says to make it fun and out of the ordinary. “Don’t be afraid to get dirty or embarrass yourself a little bit.”

Cross your fingers for those kids, because they’re really close to their next milestone. “Right now, they are $2 away from an ice cream sundae. The deal is if they reach $250, they get to design their own ice cream sundae. And then they are $52 away from a pizza and a wing contest. So we go outside, we have a picnic with pizza and wings out back. And they get to sit there in the sun while their friends are running around the playground.

“Life’s okay when you’re in fourth grade eating pizza and wings.”

What Happens When You Donate to The Ride?

There are many powerful ways to support the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s goal of freeing our world from the fear, pain and loss of cancer. The funds raised during The Ride For Roswell go directly to cutting-edge research and quality-of-life programs at Roswell Park.

Roswell Park Turns $1 into $13

Roswell Park has recruited 100 new researchers and doctors in two years. The focus is to bring together the best minds to make cancer discoveries. Donations to Roswell Park enable breakthrough discoveries, and bring new treatments from the lab to a patient’s bedside.

Roswell Park scientists apply and compete for grants from the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. Scientists prepare overviews of their research and provide detailed explanations as to how they’d use grants to impact cancer research. The Scientific Advisory Committee, an objective internal committee of Roswell Park scientists, awards money from donations to the most promising projects. While all of the research projects are impressive, the funds go to projects that show the most promise to curing cancer.

This seed money is used for researchers to obtain primary research data and in turn apply for larger national grants. The initiatives that receive support often lead to long-term funding from national organizations and new treatments. For every dollar donated to these projects, Roswell Park is able to leverage an additional $13 for cancer research.

A Strong Connection Fuels This Family’s Participation

For Renee Boltri, cancer has long been a part of her life. A native to Western New York, she has had many friends and relatives diagnosed with cancer throughout her life. Her first real connection to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center was in the 1990s while working as a campus minister at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. A university student was diagnosed with cancer and was receiving a bone marrow transplant at Roswell Park, so, when she could, Renee would visit with the student.

In 2006, Renee moved back to Buffalo. Then her very close friend Amy lost her mother to cancer that same year. While driving with her son Stephen, who also happens to be Amy’s godson, Renee saw an ad for The Ride For Roswell. She turned to Stephen and asked, “Do you want to do this for Aunt Amy’s mom?”

Stephen said yes, and they signed up for the 2007 Ride For Roswell.

For Renee, participating in The Ride became a tradition. She has continued to ride every year since, and either Stephen or her daughter, Teresa, accompanies her.

According to Renee, The Ride is one of the most profound things she does all year. While she doesn’t have any family members currently struggling with cancer – something she is incredibly grateful for – she has such a strong connection to the cause that she keeps riding.

Anyone Can Do It

When asked what her favorite part about The Ride is, Renee responds that there is nothing about The Ride that she dislikes. One of the biggest misconceptions she hears about The Ride is that it’s a race, which can intimidate people. But it’s not a race, and she’s seen all types of physical abilities when riding. She knows firsthand that everyone is capable. And she even has a story to prove it!

One year, Renee and Teresa, who was 11 years old at the time, were riding the 30-mile route. Teresa was riding for her Uncle Joe, who had cancer. But it was an incredibly hot summer day, which made The Ride harder than other years.

Renee didn’t realize Teresa was struggling until they pulled up at a rest stop as some of the last riders. One of the nurses immediately stepped in, offered Teresa a cold compress, sat with her and made sure she was hydrated. After that, Renee kept telling Teresa that they could stop anytime and that they didn’t have to finish. Teresa’s response?

“No, I am finishing for Uncle Joe.”

And they did. Once they crossed the finish line, Teresa called her grandmother, who was with Uncle Joe at the time. Uncle Joe was so thrilled and proud that Teresa finished. He passed away five days later.

Renee wants to encourage anyone who is thinking of doing The Ride to do it because whatever you choose to do and whatever you are capable of doing helps in multiple ways, whether that’s physically riding, volunteering or being a virtual rider.

“We literally brought up the rear one year, and that’s OK!” Renee says. “To be a part of something of this magnitude is like nothing else. So go for it! You can do something.”

Donor Support Makes New Immunotherapy Approach Possible

At Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, scientists are testing a two-pronged attack against cancer cells by super-charging the immune system. This therapy is being studied through a phase 1 clinical trial.

“Cancer cells are really smart,” observes Richard Koya, MD, PhD. “Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and even some immunotherapies may have some effect initially, but cancer cells have a way to evade them, to be resistant and grow back. That’s why it’s so difficult to treat cancer.”

As Associate Director of the Center for Immunotherapy and Director of the Vector Development and Production Facility, Dr. Koya spends a lot of time thinking about ways to help the immune system outsmart cancer. He developed this new immunotherapy with Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, Deputy Director of Roswell Park and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy.

“What we see over and over in trying to treat some of the most aggressive and intractable cancers, including many lung, brain, ovarian, breast, melanoma and sarcoma tumors, is that the tumor fights back,” says Dr. Odunsi. “We have identified a major pathway by which these kinds of cells try to disable immune cells, and formulated a strategy for exploiting that weakness.”

Super Immune Cells

In a process similar to donating blood, a patient’s T lymphocytes (T cells) are collected and sent over to the Center for Immunotherapy.
There, they are armed with receptors that enable the T cells to hunt down and destroy specific tumor cells. They’re also given a second gene to protect the T cells from attack by a protein tumors use for protection. Then, the T cells are infused back into the patient and get to work fighting cancer.

“Nobody else is doing the combination of these two different elements in the same platform anywhere in the United States or even on the planet,” says Dr. Koya.

This trial was made possible thanks to Roswell Park donations and funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Fueling Quality-of-Life Programs Through Donations

Every dollar raised for The Ride For Roswell makes an impact. Each rider who signs up for The Ride helps the future of cancer research and cures. All donations get us that much closer to a world without cancer.

Growing our research to have a global impact

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center has many researchers who bring their expertise to patients with innovative cancer therapies. The funds raised through The Ride For Roswell help our researchers investigate new treatment options and facilitate clinical trials for both common and rare types of cancers.

These therapies can provide cutting-edge treatment choices to patients in our own community and in cancer centers worldwide. Your commitment to The Ride For Roswell starts locally and impacts globally.

Quality of Life Programs at Roswell Park

Roswell Park faculty and staff develop quality-of-life programs that directly benefit patients and their families. Oftentimes, the best ideas on how to help patients come from those professionals who spend each day with them.

Similar to the Scientific Advisory Committee’s grant submission process for our scientists, the faculty and staff at Roswell Park can submit a quality-of-life programs proposal for consideration. A committee board evaluates and selects the best proposals. Then, Roswell Park funds and implements those selected. This process is a great way to ensure that these programs are being cultivated by the dedicated professionals that see patients every day. A portion of the donations raised through The Ride For Roswell go directly to funding these quality-of-life programs.

In 2016 – 2017, 30 quality-of-life grant submissions received $900,000 of funding. Highlights include free wigs and head coverings for patients, bedside attendants who give patients a helping hand during their stay, inpatient comfort kits and much more. These programs help patients focus on their cancer fight and reminds them that cancer does not define who they are.