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Inspire: COVID can't stop Kids Caring For Kids cancer crusaders

For decades the annual Kids Caring for Kids Cancer Drive has raised thousands of dollars every year for pediatric cancer care in the region. COVID-19 has made the drive more challenging the past two years, but the Lockerby Composite students who champion the effort say nothing will stop them for hitting $1 million in total funds raised
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Staysha Kasunich, 16, and Darren Tymeczko, 17, are the co-chairs of 2022 Laura Cotesta Kids Caring for Kids Cancer Drive.

The Vikings were known to be brave warriors. Sudbury's modern-day Vikings are steadfast Lockerby Composite School students who raise money to help children and teens courageously battle cancer.

The secondary school's signature fundraiser is the Kids Caring for Kids Cancer Drive. For more than two decades, students have set aside one night a year to knock on doors asking for donations to support the pediatric oncology program at the Northeast Cancer Centre.

The annual canvass was started by Lockerby student Laura Cotesta in 1995. Diagnosed with an ependymoma spinal cord tumour when she was eight, Laura had to travel to Toronto for treatment at the Toronto SickKids Hospital. 

When she was 16, with the help of her mom, Pina, she championed the event to raise money to help fund children's cancer treatment in Sudbury.

Laura died in 1997 shortly after graduating from Lockerby. Her mom continues to be involved in the fundraising campaign that keeps her daughter's memory alive.

Since 1995, Lockerby's cancer drive has raised almost $1 million for the pediatric cancer centre. 

The centre has a dedicated team of health-care professionals, five treatment rooms with child-size equipment, a private waiting room with toys, a resource library, and a teleconference room for specialists to consult with other doctors.

Staysha Kasunich, 16, and Darren Tymeczko, 17, are the co-chairs of the Kids Caring for Kids Cancer Drive, which is scheduled for April 28, 2022.

The fundraiser was cancelled for October 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The student leaders have their fingers crossed that nothing will not prevent them from holding the cancer drive in the spring. 

There is a fun sense of competition to be the individual or team that collects the most money. Most of the school's 512 students participate in the drive as do their teachers. 

The 2022 cancer drive organizing committee members are Ava Bard, Sophia Lilley, Jordan Malo, Mariam Siddiqi, Alison Smith, Anna Svalina, Beverly Schwendener, Laura D'Aloisio, Zander Kasinuch, Natalia Campeau, Calli Evans, Liz Ugoccioni, Derek Grubber, David Sorgini and Maeva Sullivan.

The "Kids" have also been raising money with monthly fundraisers such as selling "Cancer Drive" sweaters and masks and holding raffles.

While the one-night blitz targets neighbourhoods around the school in the city's South End, online donations can be made by anyone at any time. Click here to donate or to find out more.

Staysha and Darren are both in Grade 12 and are successfully maintaining good marks while taking part in numerous extra-curricular activities including regular weekly meetings about the cancer drive. 

Both teens have been volunteers with the cancer drive since Grade 9.

Lockerby principal Craig Runciman heaped prize on the teen co-chairs. 

"Darren and Stashya are outstanding individuals who continue the tradition of strong leadership of the Laura Cotesta Kids Caring for Kids Cancer Drive Committee," he said.

A member of the student council, Darren reads the school's morning announcements once a week.

Darren wants to become a doctor and hopes to head to Western University next fall.

Like her co-chair, Staysha is interested in a career in health care. She has applied to several universities, including Laurentian. 

Currently a NEO Kids student ambassador, Staysha says, "I instantly fell in love with the cancer drive. It was so much fun. I met so many people."

She is particularly proud all of the money raised during the event stays in Sudbury.

"We are just shy of (raising) $1 million and we want to get over $1 million," Staysha said.

Staysha and Darren's Words of Inspiration

"Fight and you will win," said Darren quoting Ukraine's beloved poet Taras Shevchenko. (He has been interviewing his grandfather, a former Ukrainian journalist, for a school project and was recently introduced to Shevchenko's work.) Staysha shares her inspiration, a quote from Laura Cotesta's book "The Sun Will Shine," published posthumously. "If you keep hoping and praying for sunshine, the sunshine is sure to come."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance journalist.