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Students Stay 'Up 'til Dawn' in Fundraising Effort
By Laura Fenton

With only two weeks to live, 4-year-old Amber needed a miracle and needed it fast. She found it at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which, with the help of a University of Memphis student organization, provides the world’s best cancer treatment for children.

Amber, now 9, is in remission from her struggle with Wilms’ tumor, a rare cancer of the kidney that mostly affects children between the ages of 3 and 4.

Her recovery at St. Jude and the donations from organizations such as the U of M’s Up ’til Dawn national fundraising campaign, meant that Amber received the immediate and aggressive care she needed, while her parents, like Amber’s mother Tracey, were relieved of the burden of paying for the hospital’s services.

“It’s huge to know that there are others out there [who] are fighting for your children,” Tracey said. “In essence, [they’re] fighting with you. It gives you help and encouragement.”

U of M students founded Up ’til Dawn 12 years ago as a fundraiser for St. Jude. The program has spread to about 250 campuses across the United States with more than $28 million raised since its inception. Students take part in a number of fundraising activities that include letter-writing campaigns, developing community and restaurant partnerships and collection events at major intersections. 

This year’s campaign culminated Feb. 25 with a special “all night” event on the U of M campus that featured Tracey and Amber. During the evening’s activities, officials revealed that this year’s effort raised $152,142.26.

The finale is held from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. to symbolize the hours that parents and children might lie awake worrying about their health problems, said Kelly Pietkiewicz, executive director of the U of M’s Up ’til Dawn event.

“By doing this event every year, we just hope that we can lessen the number of parents and children that have to go through that,” said Pietkiewicz, a U of M senior.

The name Up ’til Dawn also symbolizes “the fact that no child should die in the dawn of life,” Pietkiewicz said.

Last year the U of M surpassed the $1 million mark in total contributions, which is astounding and humbling at the same time, Pietkiewicz said.

“If we raise $1 or we raise $1 million, it helps the hospital in some way,” Pietkiewicz said. “I wouldn’t want any child to miss out on opportunities.”

 “Up ’til Dawn is one of the most important programs we have at St. Jude,” said Jessami Jacobson, senior event marketing representative for ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude.

Each day it takes $1.6 million to run the hospital. Because no patient’s family is ever required to pay for treatment at St. Jude, the hospital relies heavily on donations.

The U of M remains one of the top schools in the fundraiser each year, Jacobson said.

“This generation is one of the most giving generations,” Jacobson said. “They’re very motivated to do work for others.”

The “all-night” finale is a fun way for U of M students to end the campaign. Students take part in board games and Jeopardy-style game shows. Massage therapists, a caricature artist, bands and the U of M pom squad are part of the night’s entertainment.

Volunteers will start the next campaign in August.

Morale chair Kimmy Do, U of M junior, can’t wait to start again. Working with Up ’til Dawn has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life because of the impact the fundraiser makes on the lives of others.

“We’ve raised so much, but at the same time, there is so much that needs to be done to make St. Jude remain successful,” Do said.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened in 1962 as a place for cancer research and treatment.

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Last Updated: 1/23/12