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Article updated: 7/1/2013 2:06 PM

Dist. 300 teens fight cancer through Relay

By Tara García Mathewson

Hannah Rice got a team together to participate in Community Unit District 300's Relay For Life three years ago. She was a freshman at Carpentersville's Dundee-Crown High School and thought it would be fun.

Rice's friend Caroline Hutton quickly jumped on board. Two of her grandparents died of cancer and her uncle, a survivor, has been very involved in the American Cancer Society's signature event for years. She knew it was a worthwhile cause.

Over the years the girls, now 17, have grown their influence from team leaders to districtwide committee members to co-chairs of the District 300 event -- which, last spring, blew past its $70,000 fundraising goal under their watch and ended with $112,000.

This coming school year, the senior duo will have a chance to ramp up their Relay involvement even more.

Both applied to be on the regional campus advisory team and, amazingly, they both were selected for the prestigious spots, filled mostly by college-age volunteers. Just five people from Illinois are on the team.

"We were bracing ourselves for either one of us making it or neither of us," said Caroline of West Dundee.

In the Lakeshore Division, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, Caroline is heading up leadership development. She'll work with Relays across the state to help them build up their volunteer bases and ensure they have strong leadership within their committees.

Hannah of Sleepy Hollow will work on survivor and caregiver development. Many Relay events include a survivor dinner and the actual relays always involve dedicated laps for those who are fighting cancer or caring for the people who are.

The Dundee-Crown High School committee is in charge of District 300's survivor dinner, which means Hannah has had a front-row seat to the difference it makes for people who have been diagnosed with cancer to be honored each year.

"They're really the heart of why we Relay," Hannah said. "We want to make sure we recognize their importance in the fight."

Hannah will help schools and colleges plan their survivor dinners, making sure to include as many community members as possible. Last year for Dundee-Crown's dinner, she helped reach out to young cancer survivors to combat the idea that cancer only affects those in middle age or older.

So far their involvement in the regional advisory team has been limited to conference calls with their peers. Those will continue on a monthly basis through next spring with the addition of two bigger trips -- one likely in Indiana to meet all the other advisory team members and another possibly in Georgia, where the American Cancer Society is headquartered, to work with people on advisory teams from across the country.

Planning for the 2014 events will pick up in earnest as students head back to school in August.

While the girls keep up with their classes in their senior year, supporting Relays throughout Illinois, planning the Dundee-Crown survivor dinner and co-chairing the District 300 event, they'll also be organizing their own team because, of course, they are still participants.

Their individual team will be expected to fundraise throughout the year and have at least one person on the track for the entire event, which will run from 6 p.m. April 4 to 6 a.m. April 5 at Dundee-Crown High School. Because cancer never sleeps, neither will the fundraising teams.

Dist. 300's event rotates among its three high schools each year. The 2014 relay will be at Dundee-Crown so along with the survivor dinner responsibility, the school committee will have to oversee more event preparation than they did last year when it was at Hampshire High School.

"It's a daunting amount of work," Caroline said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge … but I think that passion that's behind our involvement in Relay will make it not seem like a chore. It's work that we enjoy."

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