- Pine-Richland School District
From Classroom to Crusaders: Meet the Pine-Richland High School Juniors Taking on Blood Cancer
Student Visionaries of the Year is a program through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) in which high school students raise funding and increase awareness of blood cancers in support of LLS’ mission. Student Visionaries of the Year titles are awarded to the teams that raise the most money during the seven-week competition, which runs through March 31.
Two Pine-Richland High School juniors are participating in the 2023 campaign, each with their own motivations and strategies, but with a shared goal to increase funding for LLS and increase awareness of blood cancer.
Jaden Persaud leads a team called Stronger Together, and is motivated by his mother Jessica Kuhns, who has been battling myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), a blood cancer that causes bone marrow to make too many or too few blood cells, since 2016.
“It’s for my mom,” Jaden said. “When I was ten, I was told we had to prepare for her funeral.”
Jaden’s goal is to raise $15,000, a goal he describes as modest given that he is new to the Student Visionaries program.
Upon his mother’s diagnosis, Jaden immediately stepped into the role of caregiver. For the last seven years, he has cooked and cleaned, helped his mother with medication, accompanied her to appointments at Hillman Cancer Center, and kept her honest with her doctor. He also got involved with LLS at that time, helping to raise over $10,000 with Light the Night and hosting barbecues for first responders and lemonade fundraisers, as well as raising funds to donate to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Jaden’s work to raise money and awareness did not go unnoticed. In 2018, he was named an MPN Hero by CURE magazine and celebrated in a ceremony in San Diego. Jaden was one of eight in the country to receive the award, and the first child to ever be honored. His mother was named an MPN Hero in 2022, and both were interviewed by Lavar Burton in Los Angeles to talk about their experiences with cancer and the importance of regular checkups. Later this year, Jaden and his mother will serve as judges for CURE to help select the 2023 class of heroes.
Jaden’s team includes his fellow JROTC cadets. Jaden has been involved with JROTC since his freshman year and this year is Cadet Captain. His team’s strategy has been to approach local businesses asking for donations, sending lots of emails and even taking meetings and doing presentations for local business owners.
Jaden plans to pursue the Air Force after graduation, either attending the Air Force Academy or enlisting. He also intends to continue raising money and awareness for MPNs and hopes to be able to partner with local organizations to do more fundraising and advocacy, noting that he wants people to understand that cancer is more than just a physical battle.
“Under-recognized cancers need attention,” Jaden said. “Cancer takes a big mental toll on a person, in addition to the physical toll.”
Zachary Howard is leading a team called Secure a Cure with six other students, including juniors Ben Baileys, Cory Cownie, Aman Guruacharya, Alex Lemoncelli and Yash Shah, and sophomore Noah Mackie, as well as his parents and travel hockey coach.
Zach was inspired to get involved with LLS and the Student Visionaries of the Year campaign because his cousin had leukemia.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” Zach said. “And because of my cousin, I want to bring awareness and support, and I want people to know how people with cancer feel.”
His goal is to raise $48,000, equal to $1,500 for each year that his cousin has lived cancer-free.
Zach’s team is fundraising in school and throughout the community with activities including a March Madness NCAA tournament fundraiser in which the winner splits proceeds with the campaign. His team also is working with local businesses to ask for donations and sponsorships, as well as reaching out to family and friends via email and social media with links to the online fundraising page.
“Anything people can contribute to help cancer lose is a win for everyone,” Zach said.
Next year, Zach plans to nominate his brother or a teammate to lead a team. After high school, Zach intends to attend college for business or real estate, but wants to stay involved with fundraising, noting, “It’s fulfilling to know that I’m making a difference.”