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Take THAT, cancer

Five junior high boys help two friends fight life-threatening illness
North Central Junior High students Sam Rechkemmer, Kaleb Williams, Carson Baldes, Drake Woody and Ben Vander Leest have created a video as part of a fundraising effort to benefit two young people with cancer. Watch the video at www.indiegogo.com/projects/kill-cancer-for-flash-and-avery. (photo by Lori Lindner)


NORTH LIBERTY– Ever wanted to punch cancer in the nose, knock its teeth out or even give cancer a swift knee to the groin?
Five young men from North Central Junior High (NCJH) have made it possible, on their crowd fund website “KILL CANCER for Flash and Avery.”
The group of seventh and eighth graders– Carson Baldes, Sam Rechkemmer, Kaleb Williams, Drake Woody and Ben Vander Leest– together with mentor B.C. Tweedt of North Liberty created a web-based video to help two young friends fight cancer.
This isn’t just a heartfelt video. It’s witty. It appeals to teens, ‘tweens and, really, anybody who knows anything at all about cancer. It’s inspiring, sincere and effective.
And it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
The fighting five became friends in school and through a local spiritual-based youth group, Triple G– Guys, Grub and God. They gather at various restaurants to meet, eat, and talk about the Bible. They also talk about ways to serve others; even people they don’t really know.
“We were at Chili’s a few weeks ago, and were talking about ways to help Flash and Avery, and Mr. Tweedt suggested the idea of making a video to support them,” said Carson. “We all jumped right in right away.”
“Flash” is 14-year-old West High School freshman Austin Schroeder, who was diagnosed in April with stage 3 T-Lymphoblastic that has since progressed to stage 4. Avery is the daughter of NCJH science teacher Heidi Flick. In the same week Avery turned one year old, doctors found a rhabdomyosarcoma tumor in her abdomen that was too large to remove, and have been treating with chemotheraphy since October, hoping to shrink it enough to surgically remove it soon.
A couple of the boys had met Flash. Only three of them had class with Mrs. Flick.
But all five of them understood the risks associated with cancer.
Working with Tweedt, the crew created an Internet video talking about Flash and Avery, and uploaded it to the crowd fund site Indiegogo. There, viewers can watch the short clip and contribute to the campaign to benefit the two young cancer patients.
Both the video and the webpage use humor; only a tinge off-color, in a goofy, junior high sort of way.
“We wanted it to be appealing to everyone, and didn’t want to just be sad and serious,” said Sam. “We wanted to let people know we are fighting, and Austin is fighting. We wanted to have a good attitude and be funny so it encourages others to fight too.”
The combination of somber and silly was meant to engage and inspire, Kaleb added.
“There are a lot of funny parts, but we try to be serious too, so it makes kids want to watch it and learn how to give hope to others (dealing with cancer) and help them stay confident,” he said.
The group set a fundraising goal of $10,000. It was a high goal number, and they weren’t sure what to expect.
Not to worry. In the first day of the campaign, the site had already brought in $2,300.
It might have something to do with the clever incentives offered at each pledge level. Give $10, and the boys will send you an “air hug”; consider it a jab to cancer’s gut. Twenty-five dollars– a poke in cancer’s eye–gets your name on giant cards given to Flash and Avery. For $50, you will receive one of B.C. Tweedt’s books, “Greyson Gray, Camp Legend,” autographed by the author himself, and an honorary punch to cancer’s nose. As pledge levels increase, so do the creativity of the incentives and the strength of the symbolic blows against cancer’s evil deeds.
And the pièce de résistance? For a pledge of $1 million, Drake will take out your trash.
While wearing a dress.
And singing ‘Let it Go’ in his best girl voice.
That particular perk is considered a nail in cancer’s coffin.
Last week, contributions had climbed to over $8,200, with nearly two weeks to go until the campaign ends Dec. 31.
“Even if people can’t donate much, $5 is just as good as $50,” said Kaleb. “We want as many donations as we can get, because every dollar counts.” The total raised will be divided equally between the two families.
While no one in the group has been able to talk with Austin or with Avery’s parents, they know their mission is being accomplished and their missive is being spread.
“First we just posted it to different social networks, and lots of people saw that,” said Sam. “Once the school saw it, they played it on the Knight Morning Show so every classroom could see it, and now the TV news and the newspapers (have reported it).”
Carson said the additional media exposure has surely helped.
“After seeing $2,000 on the first day, it seemed like we would be able to reach our goal,” said Carson. “I know people across the country have watched it, because some of my mom’s friends on the east coast donated. And the video keeps getting played everywhere I go.”
Kaleb said he continues to urge his fellow classmates to get on the website and donate. Drake said watching people rally around the effort makes him believe $10,000 is an attainable mark
“I went to a benefit for Flash, and the family was only expecting a few people and there were over 300. So I thought we were going to be able to reach our goal,” Drake said.
NJCH Principal Jane Fry said such is the supportive nature of this school, its staff and students.
“There has been a tremendous community outpouring for these families, which is pretty reflective of the community in general and the kids in this building. They are always looking for ways to do things for others,” Fry said.
Teacher Heidi Flick agreed.
“My school has been so amazing,” said Flick. Coworkers have provided meals students put together a paper chain with encouraging comments for the family, Team Avery T-shirt days were held, bracelets were sold; even the football team decorated their football helmets for Avery. A dodgeball tournament and silent auction helped raised additional money for the Flick family.
“They even send us text messages throughout the day asking how we are and letting us know that they are thinking about us. I’m so blessed to work with such amazing people and teach such wonderful kids,” Flick added.
And her reaction to the video?
“I was touched beyond words. Not only was this video funny and unique, but it was so thoughtful. Not many kids would be so willing to give back to those who give,” Flick said. “These boys–13 year olds–have done something so incredibly selfless and I’m so proud of them! They have always had a wonderful spirit and sense of humor so I’m in awe of their ability to share these gifts in such a positive way.”
Ben said he believes the Kill Cancer video has also shown peers how to be a part of something bigger.
“Possibly, we brought them out of their shell” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage just to put it up on a public website, and maybe now they see it’s a good thing to do something like this.”
All five of the boys credited mentor Tweedt for leading them in the project.
“He deserves a lot of credit,” said Drake. “He’s worked really hard on the video, he filmed it, he put the pieces of the video together and edited the parts where we were laughing too hard.”
These Triple G members also attend Parkview Church’s J Life activities, a time for junior high kids play games, share snacks, listen to speakers talk about real-life experiences and have meaningful discussions on God, the Bible and spiritual gifts.
It can be heady stuff for 12- and 13-year-olds, but Tweedt’s enthusiasm lightens the load, the boys said.
“He wants us to have fun, and then get serious when we start reading the Bible and really dig deep into it,” said Ben.
Tweedt said he has been continually impressed by the boys’ humility and compassion as this fundraising project has grown.
“They want to see Flash and Avery beat cancer as much as anyone, and they aren’t expecting anything in return for joining their fight against it,” Tweedt said. “I’m honored to walk beside them as we all try to be more like Jesus, who sacrificed himself to cure us of our ‘cancer’ called sin.”
Kaleb said the J Life activities are so fun that he hopes other junior high peers will join them. More importantly, he has learned what it ‘s like to give a truly great gift this holiday season.
“We should always respect others, no matter what. But this is the first time I’ve done something very big…not just respecting others, but caring and giving hope to others and trying to help someone live,” Kaleb said. “Which is pretty cool.”
View the KILL Cancer video at