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Hillsboro student's essay is recognized by leading cancer research organization.

PMG PHOTO: JANAE EASLON - Hillsboro student Anthony Izquierdo, 11, wrote an essay about The American Association of Cancer Research and his experience to losing a loved one to cancer.  When 11-year-old Anthony Izquierdo saw an opportunity to give back to cancer research this year, he knew he had to take it.

A student at Hillsboro's Imlay Elementary School, Anthony was tasked with a simple assignment as part of his school's Penny Wars fundraiser: write an essay about a charity you admire.

The class assignment quickly turned into something more, his teacher, Deborah Luther, said. The Penny Wars fundraiser encourages students to bring in pennies and add them to their class's jar, which are later donated to a charity selected from a student's essay.

The essay was meant to profile a charity of the student's choice, according to Luther, and describe and persuade others why their school's collected money should be donated there.

For Anthony, the answer was simple: The American Association for Cancer Research, based in Philadelphia, whose research was near and dear to his heart.

Anthony's uncle, Juan Izquierdo, died at age 29 in 2014 after living with leukemia for several years. Soon after, Anthony's grandmother was also diagnosed with cancer.

COURTESY PHOTO - Sixth grade students at Imlay Elementary School participate in 'Penny Wars,' a classroom competition where the money benefits a charity. "I was just going to do any other foundation; just pick a charity and move on with it," Anthony said. "I saw AACR after going through the cancer research charities and that is the one that appealed to me the most. I liked how they found the research and how they do everything."

Each of the essays were read in front of the class, and students were asked to rate them. The essay with the best score's charity would be chosen to receive the Penny Wars money, Luther said. Anthony's was chosen by a landslide.

"He cried while reading," Luther said. "A lot of kids have experience with cancer, and they would choose (organizations like) St. Judes Children's Hospital, where it affects kids, but Anthony chose something that goes to the source about curing cancer, and the science behind it."

In the end, "Penny Wars" collected $436.48, and was donated in Juan Izquierdo's name to the American Association of Cancer Research earlier this year.

AACR reached out to Luther to learn more about Anthony's story, then asked if they could feature his essay in a video to be shown around the nation.

COURTESY PHOTO - Deborah Luther, a sixth grade teacher at Imlay Elementary, taught students how to write persuasive essays about a charity of their choice, with the money from 'Penny Wars' donated there after the competition was over. In the video, scientists and healthcare professionals read each line of his essay.

"Every Jan. 24, we go to the cemetery and hang out as if he was there," reads one part of Anthony's essay. "I would hate it if other kids, or even adults, went through that with their own families. I know how it very much sucks for someone you love go through that."

Susana Izquierdo, Anthony's mother, said she didn't expect Anthony to write about his grief about his uncle's cancer, she said.

Anthony kept it as a surprise for his family, he said.

"It is still something very touching to us about my brother, and for him to have written something, we didn't know how badly it affected him," she said. "How he could get motivated about something as tragic as this, we would always talk about getting a tattoo or something for my brother, but (my brother) would tell us never to do something like that. He said, 'if you ever do something in my name, do something positive for other people that aren't as fortunate.'"

Luther said the donation has made a big impact across Imlay.

PMG PHOTO: JANAE EASLON - Susana Izquierdo and her son Anthony Izquierdo are at their home in Hillsboro, and share their stories about Anthony's uncle Juan Izquierdo, who died at age 29 in 2014 after living with leukemia for several years. "I told the other teachers that I didn't think that were that many kids who could do what he did and be accepted," Luther said. "They already had a high level of respect for Anthony, but putting himself out there, it just got raised."

Anthony's family is close-knit, and his mother said wants their traditions, like coming together to remember loved ones by visiting their resting places, to be instilled in her children.

"We talk a lot about Juan and his whole process, and things we could have done to make it easier in case another family member goes through this again," she said. "We also talk about memories. It is a positive experience."

Anthony and his mother recently walked for breast cancer awareness together in Portland, and they said they want to continue to be involved as much as possible.

"If there is any way we can help stop this, we are there," she said.?



By Janae Easlon
Features Editor
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
971-762-1166
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Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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