The Saratoga Sun -

SkillsUSA strides to new highs

SM/HS students raise record $32,500 to battle cancer with cancer walk, projects


October 3, 2018

Joshua Wood

SkillsUSA advisor Scott Bokelman poses with one of the cancer walk tee shirts students printed.

On Thursday, Sept. 20, Saratoga Middle/High School (SMHS) students and staff presented a check for $25,000 to the Corbett Medical Foundation to go towards helping Valley residents diagnosed with cancer. The donation came out of the $32,500 raised by the students of SMHS and members of SkillsUSA in 2018, led by Saratoga technology teacher Scott Bokelman. The remainder was donated to the Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative (WBCI).

To date, that is the most money that Bokelman and his students have raised and comes to a total of over $100,000 raised in seven years. Bokelman, who himself has battled cancer, stated that much of the money raised is thanks to the generosity of the Valley's businesses and individuals. However, those deep ties within the community go beyond even the borders of Wyoming.

"There's a lot of people from not even around here that donate and, then, friends of mine donate that are from Nebraska and see what we're doing even though they know the money is staying in Wyoming," said Bokelman. "We just got a donation last week from somebody. It was kind of funny, because they put on the envelope it's somebody's first removed cousin from so-and-so."

The Valley, of course, is no stranger to cancer as Bokelman is not the only person to battle the disease. Earlier this year, former Saratoga Elementary School teacher Annette Mason passed away and, nearly four years ago, former SMHS teacher Burt Willford also passed after battling with the disease. The Valley is home to several survivors as well, including Mary Hohnholt, former student Garry Wood, who played at this year's Cancer Walk, and local philanthropist Keith Bailey.

The students of SMHS who have been involved with raising money for both the Corbett Medical Foundation and the WBCI may not have been personally affected by cancer, but feel that it is important to volunteer and give back to their community.

Kelly Glode, who is a sophomore at SMHS, echoed that very sentiment stating that she joined to help people. While the SMHS Technology class and SkillsUSA team work on a variety of projects, Glode said she prefers the hands-on of working with the wood projects.

SMHS junior Taylor Bennett also felt it was important to give back to the community.

"I thought it would be a good idea just to give back to the community and I've seen people affected by cancer," said Bennett. "I've had family and also teachers. My first grade teacher Mrs. Kelley (Mason) passed away."

Bennett was very impressed, much like Bokelman, at the amount of money raised this year through the various fundraising programs.

"For a small town like this to raise that amount of money, and be able to give it back, that's really cool," Bennett said.

While Glode prefers working with the wood projects, Bennett is more partial to applying paint to the finished product.

Newly transferred SMHS senior Takoda Pedersen was quick to get involved in the fundraising programs, adding that cancer has had a very personal impact on her own life.

"When I heard it was about cancer I was like 'Oh, well I'm really interested' partly because my grandpa has cancer. He's had lung cancer before ... but he got it back this last year and he hasn't been doing so well," said Pedersen. "I've been super busy and haven't been able to see him and I feel really guilty. I don't really know how to help him, besides going and visiting him, but it just makes me think 'If I can't help him, I can go and help other people by raising money for them to go get treatment.'"

"It's really hard for a kid to understand what people go through when they get this, unless it's been next to them personally," said Bokelman.

The technology teacher added that he feels it is important to try and instill that sense of volunteerism and community service in his students and that cancer is just one of many diseases that can disrupt the lives of people.

Now in their seventh year of fundraising, some changes have come to how SMHS students and the SkillsUSA team have decided money be spent. One of those changes is going from mileage reimbursement for cancer patients to a check for $1,000. This year, the Corbett Medical Foundation has written twelve checks to help towards mileage, totalling $12,000 given to Valley residents who are currently fighting the disease.

Additionally, while most people may see the surface fundraising efforts such as the Chip in for Cancer golf tournament and the Cancer Walk, a lot work goes on behind the scenes as well.

"The biggest part of it is getting letters out to all the businesses and folks in our Valley. That takes quite a bit. We're sending out, probably, 200 mailings. Then, when we don't hear back, we start making phone calls," Bokelman said. "Keeping track of all the funds coming in is a big part of it, that takes up a lot of time, too. We've been looking for somebody else to take that over and Michelle McWain is going to take that piece over because it's getting too big."

According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1,735,350 new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States for 2018 and in Wyoming that number is 2,780.

While the Chip in for Cancer tournament and the Cancer Walk are over for 2018, those wishing to contribute to additional fundraising efforts by SMHS students and the SkillsUSA team can do so by purchasing the products made by them at the upcoming annual Christmas bazaar.


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