Steve Martinelli and his wife practically lived at Duke Children’s Hospital when their 9-year-old daughter, Leigha, was fighting stage 4 neuroblastoma several years ago.
Many of the times he pulled up to the parking deck, he found himself scrounging in his pockets to pay the daily $12 parking fee. He and his wife were unable to work and money was tight.
But with money raised by Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School students, Duke and UNC Children’s Hospital can pay for parking passes and other daily needs for the Martinellis and other families with sick children.
“When you are staying with your sick child, you typically have no income, and there are many things you need to pay for like parking passes, meals, gas to get to drive to the hospital and even your phone bill,” said Martinelli of Burlington. “When the hospital is able to help you out by giving you a phone card or a parking pass, it really makes a difference.”
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In the past 11 years, students from the middle school’s Social Organization and Service Club have raised more than $130,000 to help sick children at UNC Children’s Hospital and Duke Children’s Hospital. The money is distributed through UNC Children’s Promise and Duke Children’s Miracle Network.
The club’s annual dance marathon is entirely student-led. The kids are involved in all aspects of putting on a large-scale event: creating advertisements, going into the community to get sponsors and working with vendors.
“We are creating a positive and safe atmosphere for the kids to have a fun day with their friends, meet new friends from other schools and get to help other kids,” said Mike Meyer, club adviser and a counselor at the school. The club is sponsored by the Wake Forest Rotary Club.
The students’ efforts have so touched the Martinelli family that they have participated in several of the dance marathons. Leigha has also spoken at club meetings several times.
“It means a lot to us that these kids want to help out families with sick children,” Martinelli said.
Reaching more kids
After past years’ dance marathons in Wake Forest drew more than 400 tweens each year, the students decided that they wanted to increase awareness of the needs of the families and raise more money to help.
To make room for more dancers, they are holding this year’s marathon at PNC Arena from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4. All middle school students from the Triangle are invited to the event.
During the dance marathon, the tweens can dance to music from a variety of live bands, listen to a comedian and play games, including basketball and four-square. Students will also meet patients from Duke and UNC Children’s Hospitals and hear an anti-bullying message. Prizes will be available for kids who raise more than $75.
“We wanted to raise as much for the sick kids as possible and making it the Triangle Dance Marathon was the best way to help out the kids,” said Madison Bechtel of Wake Forest, an eighth-grader.
Madison recently spoke at a Wake County school board meeting to help raise support and awareness for the event.
“Everyone should sign up for the dance marathon,” Madison said. “You are doing something positive for the community and something positive for yourself. And you are potentially saving someone’s life.”
Being a part of the dance marathon meant so much to Maggie Murphy when she attended Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School that she has been taking a break from her busy schedule as a senior at Wakefield High to volunteer each week with the SOS Club.
By meeting families affected by illness and visiting the local children’s hospital with the club, Maggie said, she realized how lucky she was.
“When I met the kids and parents, it made me feel so thankful for my health. I can play sports while these kids are living in the hospital and they may not get as many opportunities as I have had and will get,” Maggie said. “Being a part of the dance marathon is really a great thing for kids to do.”