Local volunteers fight against pediatric cancer

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VOLUNTEERS SHAVE HEADS at the 8th St. Baldrick’s event for pediatric cancer.

Children danced and laughed with Flynn Rider, Rapunzel, Queen Elsa and other fictional characters as the DJ played the chicken dance song at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 party in Merrillville, on March 10.

On the other side of the building, youngsters were getting their faces painted, and creating balloon animals while over 50 people were shaving their heads to raise funds and awareness of pediatric cancer.

The dancing, face painting, balloon animals and head shaving were part of the 8th annual St. Baldrick’s event hosted every year by the Northwest Indiana Cancer Kids Foundation.

Matt Rzepka, volunteer with Costumers with a Cause and dressed as the notorious Flynn Rider, said this was his fifth-year volunteering for St. Baldrick’s.

COSTUMER WITH A CAUSE volunteer dressed as Queen Elsa dances with a little girl at the 8th St. Baldrick’s event.

“I love doing it,” Rezepka said. “It is just the simple reason of bringing a smile to kids’ faces. Being able to just give a little happiness to a kid who has been through so much in their life is great to see. It means a lot to the kids to see their favorite characters and it means a lot to me.”

Rebekah Mongold, Rzepka’s partner in crime as Rapunzel, said St. Baldrick’s was the second event she volunteered for and she loved interacting with the kids.

“It is so much fun and just seeing their faces light up is amazing,” Mongold said. “This is why I do it.”

8TH ST. BALDRICK’S event volunteers dance together on March 10.

Barb Quinlan, mother of a cancer survivor and volunteer, handed out flyers and encouraged people to sign up with Be the Match, a national marrow donor program.

Her son, 19-year-old Jack Quinlan, was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago. Jack underwent CAR-T Cell Therapy. Jack went into remission from the therapy, but there were not enough resources for the Quinlan family to undergo the therapy again. Jack and his family turned to bone marrow transplants.

“The bone marrow decreased the chances of Jack getting cancer again,” Barb said. “This is why it is important for people to Be the Match. You can save a child’s life just by signing up.”

Jack said that as someone who has survived cancer, the St. Baldrick’s event means a lot to him.

“It is important to support each other,” Jack said. “It’s nice to see people come together to make a difference in this world. It even inspires me to go out and help others.”

Barb said as soon as Jack was diagnosed NICK reached out to the family immediately.

“It was as though they were psychic or had some magical powers and could sense we were suffering. There were no personal connections with NICK. They just found us and took us in,” Barb joked, but was thankful that NICK reached out when they did.

NICK sent them gift cards for gas, food and money to pay for Jack’s laptop when he started his freshman year at Purdue University Northwest.

“When you are watching your kid suffering, you forget to do things such as making dinner or cleaning around the house,” Barb admitted. “Don’t offer help, just do it. If you think someone needs a hot meal, just do it.”

Mongold and Rzepka will continue to volunteer and encourages others to volunteer.

“Do some good charity work. Do anything for someone else. Go donate. Do anything to help out,” Mongold said.

Barb and Jack will never stop raising funds for pediatric cancer and helping others who are suffering.

“It takes a village to stop cancer,” Barb said.

NICK is still collecting donations for St. Baldrick’s. All funds go to pediatric cancer research. To donate, visit www.stbaldricks.org/events/nick8thannualevent.

The NICK Foundation is a non-profit pediatric cancer organization founded in 2009, dedicated to helping families in Northwest Indiana affected by childhood cancer.

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