St. Baldrick’s Event Unites GK Schools Community To Rally Around Student With Leukemia
Genoa-Kingston High School’s library transformed into a makeshift barbershop Thursday night as about a dozen students, staff and community members volunteered to shave their heads in a show of solidarity with a GKHS senior recently diagnosed with Leukemia, and to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer.
The event, “Raze for Rosalia,” was organized by GKHS librarian Tara Wilkins, with the assistance of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and other volunteers, to support Rosalia Najera, a 16-year-old student at the school who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September.
“When one of our students, one of our family members, is hurting or in need we just have an innate reaction to help,” Wilkins said. “To see everyone here tonight is so amazing, everyone is connected, happy — there is a lot of love in this room tonight. I just love our kids so much.”
Participants could shave their heads, as well as raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, with so far over $1,700 in funds collected—and more rolling in. Earlier, the Najera family itself was presented with $1,300 raised via a Facebook giving campaign started by Wilkins, and funded from people across the community.
Veronica Miranda, co-owner of Studio 815 in Genoa and GKHS graduate, volunteered to be the evening’s stylist, carving out everything from mohawks to “G-K” in the back of Supt. Brent O’Daniell’s head.
“I’m so honored to be a part of it,” Miranda said. “It’s just nostalgic and amazing to be back here, and now in a way where I can be of help to others.”
Teresa Najera, Rosalia’s mom and among the first to shave her head, said after her family has spent 30 of the last 40 days at the hospital battling Rosalia’s illness, it “feels really good” to get out and do something positive.
“It feels very important, because we’re making aware of the situation regarding pediatric cancer,” she said. “We really want to get out awareness of this so there can be more support and research to find more solutions to combat cancer, especially among kids.”
The Najera family discovered Rosalia’s illness in September during a routine exam with her pediatric doctor, her mother said. After noticing some slight cramping in her leg, Rosalia’s blood test results showed an extremely high count of white blood cells, prompting an immediate visit to the emergency room at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
At just 16, Rosalia started chemotherapy at Lurie’s right away, though fortunately now her mother is certified to provide chemo treatments from their home.
For Rosalia, Thursday night’s event was a chance to see some familiar faces and to re-visit the school she’s come to miss.
“It feels really good to see people here, because I thought I never would again,” she said.
Sitting at a table surrounded by her close friends and family, the 16-year-old nibbled on pepperoni pizza and gooey chocolate brownies as she dictated which funny hair style shavees would get before Miranda buzzed it all off.
Rosalia said she’s now working on regaining her strength, and she and her mother hope that future doctor’s visits remain outpatient.
In the meantime, her fellow students, community members and GK schools staff are here to support her, they say.
Zach Kaiser, a junior, said he knew Rosalia from grade school, but they aren’t typically very close friends. However, that didn’t stop him from not only shaving his head Thursday night—but also raising nearly $500 for St. Baldrick’s cancer research foundation.
“It was a good cause, and I like to help people in need,” Kaiser said. “So if coming through to help meant I needed to shave my head, that didn’t seem like a big loss.”
Nick Ortegel, another junior who remembered Rosalia from elementary school, said he didn’t hesitate to make a small sacrifice to show support to a fellow classmate in need.
“I wanted to show solidarity, and it brings people together,” Ortegel said. “Hair grows back, it’s not really that big of a deal for me to do it.”
Freshman Jacob Mishler worked with Wilkins to help organize and run the event, gathering resources, setting up tables and volunteering his time during the fundraiser.
“Anything I can do, I’m always there to help,” Mishler said.
Other community members and local businesses also showed support by donating items, such as Casey’s pizza, Studio 815’s salon services, Rivers Mexican Restaurant gift cards for volunteers, live entertainment, locally made desserts and much more.
Wilkins, who also helps run the high school’s Impact Club, said she tries to inspire other students the way her mother inspired her.
“She always told me the true key to happiness is helping others.”
So far, it seems the message is getting across at GKHS, and at schools across the district.
Check out pictures from the event below: