Hey everyone! This is Becca, the football fanatic who dragged Rachel to the Nebraska game that may or may not have given her hypothermia. Also known as her sister. Being the kind-hearted soul that she is, Rachel is setting up a Go Fund Me for December and is going to donate it to a charity at the end of the month. She chose STAC, an organization that I am very active in, so she asked me to tell you more about it. Please bear with me as I am not as witty, funny or as good a writer as Rachel, but if we really try, we can get through this together.
STAC, or Students Together Against Cancer, is a student run organization at University of Nebraska, Lincoln. We raise money through fundraisers, donations, and grants and give it to local cancer patients. Usually our donations are in the form of grocery gift cards, but we have also paid for electric and gas bills.
Jeremy Payne started STAC the summer before his freshman year at UNL. Jeremy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when he was in seventh grade. As he was going through treatments, he noticed that cancer is not only physically and emotionally, but also financially draining. After beating cancer, this concept stuck with Jeremy. Years later, with the help of Brendon Henning, they started up STAC with the intent of relieving some of the financial pain cancer patients deal with. Jeremy and Brendon now act as president and vice president for our organization.
Four years ago, freshman Becca, unfamiliar with finals, all nighters, and barely grasping the concept of shower shoes was wandering through the Recognized Student Organizations Fair. My eyes were wide with the endless opportunities to get involved. Did I want to spend my time with a group that works with the environment? Or maybe work with student sections at sporting events? I looked around, waiting for something to grab my attention, when I saw the poster for STAC. There were two volunteers working the table and they told me a little about STAC: first year organization looking to help cancer patients. I was sold. I grabbed a STAC pencil that changed colors when it got warm and marked down the first meeting date on my calendar.
At the first meeting, Jeremy and Brendon gave us the rundown of STAC, and I heard Jeremy’s story for the first time. It was motivating to see someone go through such an awful thing at a young age and come out of it hoping to make a difference. They then discussed ways to get more involved. An executive position. I filled out an application for Event Planning (why? I do not know), crossed my fingers, and sent the e-mail. A few weeks later at the dining hall, I got a response saying I had been accepted as a STAC Exec. I was so excited I dropped my phone in my cardboard- I mean pasta.
Our first year was, well, not what we expected. We were all ready to donate to patients and make big changes and be the awesome organization we all knew we could be. That unfortunately did not happen. It was spent trying to become a non-profit and raise money. Oh my lord, did we do our best to fundraise. Hot chocolate stands in the middle of February were one of our ideas. Asking (begging) for donations from parents and family friends was another. Our best fundraiser was our end of the year formal, “Classy Meets Cane’s.” We raised over $2,000 at a formal dinner that served fast food from Raising Cane’s Chicken. Weird concept, but it worked.
In our second year, we made our first donation. And then another. And another. By the end of the year, we had donated to about seven patients, added executive members, and my title changed from Event Planning to Patient Relations– it turns out I have terrible attention to detail and therefore am not a great event planner. I am so thankful for the other executive’s patience with me during those dark times, and thankful for our new event planners for doing an astronomically better job than I ever did.
Fast forward four years from STAC’s start, and we now have a thirteen-member executive team and about 30 active general members. On our executive team are people in charge of a number of different things, including event planning, website maintenance, graphic design, social media, patient relations, high school chapters, and working with other cancer related organizations. We have donated over $10,000 to around 25 patients (typing this will NEVER get old) and we have branches at two different colleges and a few high schools. Our fundraisers are bigger and better (definitely due to my relocation in positions). We have had two summer concerts, a volleyball tournament, and we are putting on our second formal dinner in a few weeks. We also work closely with the Heartland Cancer Foundation, Rainbow House, and other cancer related organizations in Nebraska.
As a Patient Relations executive, I have the amazing task of calling patients and telling them they have been accepted for a donation. We now have so many donation requests, I now have a partner who helps out with this task! (Hi Ella!) I have gotten a range of responses- sighs of relief, tears, laughter, and many stories of how difficult it is for them to get donations or money through disability. We then get to meet with the patients. Some are elderly and don’t have any family left, and we have a nice chat over coffee and do our best to keep in touch. Some of them are young with kids, and we talk about how much support they have provided, but also how difficult it can be. Sometimes I carry on our newfound friendship. Just this past summer I went to the wedding of one of the couples we donated to (hi Josh and Kelly!) It was beautiful and fun, just like them. Side note, Josh is now in remission! No matter how the meeting goes, we are always left with the feeling of gratefulness and that we truly made a difference in someone’s life.
That being said, every donation isn’t bright and shiny and happy. Too many times we have been hit with the realities of cancer and have learned that some of the patients we donated to have passed away. It is times like these that I wonder how much of a difference we are actually making. Cancer sucks. It takes away so much from so many people. It’s a hard concept to handle, but the people we have met along the way have shown that we really do make a difference.
I could tell many different stories about the patients we’ve met, but I’ll stick to one. Michael is in his 70’s and is fighting liver cancer. As a UNL alum and U.S. veteran, he had many stories for us. When I called and told him he was going to get a donation, he told me he was going to be able to buy a loaf of bread for the first time in years. Yes, you read that right, years. I could hear the smile in his voice. He had just celebrated his birthday, so exec members Victoria and Sang-ah made him a birthday cake!
Stories like Michael’s are not rare. We were able to keep a house a home for eight year old cancer patient Jacey-Jo by paying her family’s electric bill. One family had been relocated to Nebraska due to Hurricane Katrina. After losing their home and moving to a place they knew no one, the father of the family found out he had cancer. Money was already tight, but we were able to help with $400 in grocery gift cards. We’ve provided food, utilities, and support for all these patients thanks to the hard work of our executive members and donations from people who support our mission. If you are moved to do so, please do! Every little bit helps, and this is a very busy time of year for us. Just this week we are in the process of donating to five people!
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to all the STAC members, exec and general. Our executive team is made up of some really amazing and talented people. We are where we are today because of all their hard work. So THANK YOU to Jeremy, Brendon, Sang-ah, Victoria, Alex, Ella, Sam, Michael, Ronni, Taylor, Bethany and Rebekah. They are some of the kindest, smartest, most talented and selfless people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I could talk for ever about how awesome these people are, but Rachel gave me a page limit.
Becca out (my signoff. Can I do a signoff?)
To learn more the awesome people on the STAC team and meet some of our patients, visit our website at www.unl.teamstac.org and like us on Facebook at UNL Students Together Against Cancer! Merry Christmas, and thank you for taking the time to read about this awesome organization!
To donate to STAC, please copy and paste the Go Fund Me page into your address bar because I guess WordPress doesn’t believe in links to external websites: gofundme.com/aucvgytg