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It all started with one idea. Not a really clear idea. Maybe it would be better to say a hope. Kayla Owen, an eighth grader at Pocantico Hills School had the hope that she could get everyone that she knew to support a great cause: doing something for the American Cancer Society. Kayla did not have one person in mind, but she was impressed with the “making strides for breast cancer” walks. So this is where she thought she could begin.
Kayla began with a positive belief that “everyone would want to help”. Her story is one that is familiar to many; giving and caring about others is “just the right thing to do” she said when asked about her reasons for organizing the Pocantico Hawk Walk for the American Cancer Society at Swan Lake in in June. “I feel that it is important to involve as many people as possible and I was surprised how many teachers felt so strongly about having a fundraiser like this."
Kayla’s friend Maya Ponzini echoed, “it was amazing that so many people have been affected by this kind of cancer, I think that there was a lot of support because it is so personal.” Kayla added that “it was really a couple of teachers, Ms. Sheila Stanton and Dr. Patty Palumbo who really wanted to support my idea in every way possible, and then the whole faculty jumped in and then of course my friends too.” And let's not forget Kayla's mother Kelly who shares her daughter's spirit and who helped Kayla and her friends create over 200 beaded bracelets to sell to people outside of the event so that "even if you couldn't come to walk with us you could show your support."
Kayla talks about support in absolute terms. Two weeks before the Hawk Walk she began to talk about making the Hawk Walk even bigger next June. “We will always want to have it in June I think and next year we will have sponsors for the walkers and even the first graders will become part of the excitement.” This year the Hawk Walk was sponsored by the PHTA, the Pocantico Hills Teacher’s Association. Refreshments for the walkers were donated by C-Town and Sam’s Club. The largest donation came from Sport Smarts, an Elmsford t-shirt design company on Orchard Lane. Sport Smarts donated shirts for the 130 walkers, and the company printed an original design of the school mascot, the red tailed hawk, by Arielle Lewis, another Pocantico 8th grader who was eager to support the cause.
Two of Kayla’s closest friends expressed their reasons for giving the time and effort into making the event a success. As Maya Ponzini and Molly Rickles, both eighth graders poured two hundred cups of water for the thirsty walkers they reflected on their own reasons for getting involved in the Pocantico Hawk Walk. Molly smiled and said “I wanted to be there for my friend Kayla, I know that it sounds simple, but it is a really important part of friendship to support what matters to your friends. This is Kayla’s cause. We all need support for the cause that we care about. For me, it is animal welfare, and for another friend it might be something else, but what is really important is to show our friend that if it is important to them then – it is important to me.” Maya said that Kayla asked for her help and support for the Pocantico Hawk Walk back in October of 2011. “I will always be there for Kayla, and it was very moving to read the statements written down by the teachers about why they were part of this fundraiser, so many teachers have mothers and sisters who have suffered with breast cancer. I like to think that today’s walk is a way to show that we care about them too.”
Bobbi McCann, the Athletic Director for Pocantico Hills School reflected on the feeling of the event. “I think that Kayla showed us all that it only takes one person with enthusiasm to make a dream a reality – people are drawn to someone who is determined and positive, how can you turn down someone who has so much excitement? I think what we are seeing here is how goodness is contagious, everyone wanted to respond to Kayla’s enthusiasm, she is a genuine team builder, and that is what we all need. Each one of us was asked by Kayla to do something, some task, some activity, or some follow up. That is the way that Kayla helped to make us feel that we are a part of the success of the Hawk Walk, I loved it most because it came from the students, this event showed us that with enough heart any one student can organize anything, and that sense of possibility, and the power of pulling together is what Kayla gave to all of us.