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A Decade of Giving: Phi Theta Kappa and The American Cancer Society

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Each year, a barren "tree" made of brown twisted paper sprouts in the student center at the Northwest Campus of Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the next few days, green leaves are sold for a dollar each and added to the tree, transforming it into a blooming "Tree of Life," a visible symbol of the fight against cancer.

This has become an annual fundraiser for Phi Theta Kappa's Alpha Delta Delta Chapter and the American Cancer Society. In its initial year, the fundraiser - held in memory of a chapter officer's brother who died from cancer - collected $500 in just four days to benefit the neuroblastoma research and treatment fund at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth, said chapter advisor Tony Roberts.

"In the spring, we participate in Relay For Life," he said. "At other times, we have joined with other student organizations to support breast or prostate cancer awareness."

This fundraiser and others held by the chapter are part of a larger, 10-yearlong partnership between Phi Theta Kappa and the American Cancer Society, during which nearly $3.4 million has been raised for the nonprofit.

"The partnership Phi Theta Kappa has shared with the American Cancer Society for the last 10 years has exceeded expectations in terms of chapter involvement and community impact," said Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Dr. Rod Risley. "Cancer is something that has touched my life, as I lost my mother and only sibling to cancer, and will likely touch everyone at some point in our lives.

"We are honored to be doing our part to raise awareness of cancer prevention and of the role of the American Cancer Society in funding cancer research in the hopes of finding a cure."

The partnership between Phi Theta Kappa and the American Cancer Society was born in 2002 when the American Cancer Society was chosen as the recipient for the International Service Program, said Kristen Solt, Vice President of the Hope Lodge Network with the ACS. The Hope Lodge Network gives cancer patients and their families a free, temporary place to stay while receiving treatments in other cities.

"The American Cancer Society has proven to be as much a supporter of Phi Theta Kappa as we have been to them," said Jennifer Stanford, Phi Theta Kappa's Dean of Service Learning. "Over this last decade, they have provided many outstanding leadership and service opportunities for our members through their events and programs and have generously supported our programs through sponsorships at our Annual Convention."

This partnership is the longest the group has had with a member-based organization, and no other organization has raised as much money for the ACS as Phi Theta Kappa has, Solt said.

"Phi Theta Kappans are 'extending' the work of the American Cancer Society, utilizing their strengths and passion to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays," Solt said. "I read a great quote the other day that said, 'Society is strengthened and culture is moved forward by the efforts of people who think of others before they think of themselves.'

"Phi Theta Kappans are helping move our fight against cancer forward in a powerful way."

In 2011, the Alpha Psi Tau Chapter at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri, was the top fundraising chapter for that year, collecting more than $7,000 for the ACS. The chapter began by participating in its first Relay For Life almost 11 years ago, in honor of a chapter member's mother who was a breast cancer survivor.

"I can still recall entering the track where the event was being held and realizing that this was something much bigger than I had even imagined," said Josephine Fritts, Alpha Psi Tau chapter advisor. "Our team raised around $2,000 that year for the event, which I thought was outstanding, and since that time the chapter and its members have been involved."

The chapter has held car washes throughout the community, hosted Scholastic Book Fairs and even sold t-shirts during a Phi Theta Kappa Annual Convention. Its most popular fundraiser is the "Mixed-Up Holiday" bake sale, held every April Fool's Day, which features treats usually found during holidays such as Halloween and Christmas.

"This is one of our largest fundraising events, and we usually earn anywhere from $500 to $800 during these bake sales," Fritts said.

Cancer touches millions of lives each year. According to the American Cancer Society's "Cancer Facts and Figures 2012," more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. Cancer is expected to kill more than 1,500 a day this year.

The good news is that more people are surviving cancer, thanks to progress in diagnosing certain cancers earlier and to improvements in treatments. According to the ACS, the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers diagnosed between 2001 and 2007 is 67 percent, up from 49 percent in 1975-1977.

"Raising money for cancer is an easy activity to get people involved in because so many people have been touched by the disease," said Heather Galekovich, Vice President of Scholarship for the Alpha Sigma Phi Chapter of Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, which raised $6,400 for the ACS in 2011. She serves as co-chair for the chapter's Relay For Life team, along with Jennifer Campbell and Rihana Master. "For the school year of 2010-2011, our Relay chairperson was a survivor. She was really able to share her passion and hope with our team."

More than just raising money, Phi Theta Kappa members have become ACS advocates, taking an active role in grassroots campaigns to help spread the word about the importance of healthy lifestyles, better choices in school cafeterias, smoke-free campuses and early detection, Solt said. Plus, the fundraisers have connected members in ways that regular chapter meetings simply cannot. Tarrant County College - home of the "Tree of Life" - has four other Phi Theta Kappa chapters on its various campuses. Raising money for the American Cancer Society has helped connect the different chapters as they work together toward a common goal, said Martina Mapa, President of the Beta Delta Omicron Chapter at the college's South Campus.

"We have greatly increased the visibility of both ACS and Phi Theta Kappa through these events," said Joseph Denman, advisor for the Alpha Phi Lambda Chapter at Blinn College in Bryan Texas, which raised more than $6,500 in 2011 through Relay For Life, car washes and online donation accounts.

Report your chapter's participation in a Relay For Life event each year by September 15, and find helpful resources for getting your chapter involved with your own local American Cancer Society chapter.

Top 10 Fundraising Chapters in 2011:

1. Alpha Psi Tau
Ozarks Technical Community College
Springfield, Missouri
$7,075

2. Alpha Phi Lambda
Blinn College
Bryan, Texas
$6,532

3. Omicron Beta
Mesa Community College
Mesa, Arizona
$6,500

4. Alpha Sigma Phi
Clark College
Vancouver, Washington
$6,400

5. Phi Tau, Beta Delta Omicron, Rho Chi, Alpha Delta Delta
Tarrant County College - Northeast, Southeast, South, Northwest campuses
Hurst, Ft. Worth, Arlington, Texas
$4,213

6. Omicron Psi
Grayson County College, Denison Main Campus
Denison, Texas
$4,171

7. Alpha Rho Gamma
Washington State Community College
Marietta, Ohio
$4,150

8. Alpha Kappa Sigma
Red Rock Community College
Lakewood, Colorado
$3,966

9. Alpha Lambda Alpha
Hillsborough Community College
Brandon Campus
Tampa, Florida
$3,722

10. Alpha Beta Psi
National Park Community College
Hot Springs, Arkansas
$3,606

**Source: The American Cancer Society