Harris Elementary Principal Lauri Burton, right, and teacher Faye Edwards dance to music on Friday during a mini-Relay for Life event. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
DULUTH — As she led a parade of classmates, teachers and administrators on a survivor’s lap on a breezy, sun-splashed Friday afternoon, Vanessa Gissel smiled and high-fived an endless stream of purple gloves.
“This may sound cheesy,” Gissel said. “But it’s a real honor.”
Gissel, a fifth-grader at Harris Elementary, took part in what was believed to be Gwinnett’s first mini-Relay For Life event. Gissell this spring returned to school following a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister that helped her overcome sickle cell anemia. While the disease is not a cancer, several of Gissell’s treatments were similar to those used to fight cancer.
“I can’t really put it into words,” Gissell said. “They’ve done so much for me. I guess that this is a chance for me to give back.”
Harris teacher Eve Jones, who organizes the school’s participation in the Gwinnett County Relay For Life event, spearheaded the mini-Relay. Jones said the school has taught lessons about how to prevent cancer, what the different types of cancer are and why they raise money for the fight.
Jones’ goal was to help the students understand the reason behind Relay For Life.
“I’ve been doing this for 13 years and they just don’t have an understanding of what Relay For Life is all about,” she said. “I thought this is a great year to give it a try.”
As she wiped away tears, Jones shared that the school surpassed its initial goal for the mini-Relay and collected $4,469, and overall had nearly $8,000 for Relay efforts.
One student who was especially moved by the event was fifth-grader Isabelle Ponder, who wore a pink cowboy hat and celebrated her parents beating prostate and skin cancer.
“It’s nice to know that we can do something about it,” Ponder said. “Whenever I see signs for Relay for Life, I always want to donate money because I know there are people like my parents who have cancer or had cancer, and I want to help them.”