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Ellis students go pink for Breast Cancer Awareness

Students wear pink Friday support breast cancer awareness with theme 'Ellis Lends Helping HFight Cancer.' October 19 2012 | Michael

Students wear pink Friday to support breast cancer awareness with the theme "Ellis Lends a Helping Hand to Fight Cancer." October 19, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:33AM

ELGIN — Pink T-shirts and jeans aren’t usually part of the dress code at Ellis Middle School.

But the school made an exception Friday for eighth-grader Mario Moreno, Jr. — and more than 300 of his closest friends, all of whom donated a dollar to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for a wristband and the privilege.

Ellis students collected more than $300 for the foundation — dedicated to education and research about causes, treatment and the search for a cure to breast cancer — on Friday, or “Pink Day.”

All because, Mario said, “I would do anything for my mom.”

The 13-year-old, who lives in Elgin, approached Ellis Principal Perry Hayes with the idea for Pink Day earlier this year, something to celebrate his last year at the school and his mom’s ninth year as a breast cancer survivor. Pink is the color of breast cancer awareness, and October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

He was only 4 when his mom was diagnosed with cancer, but he still remembers her treatment, he said.

“She was lying in bed, no hair,” he said. “She was always calling our names because we were there with her in the hospital. We would be there all night and day waiting for her to come out.”

Mario said his mom is much better now and “appreciates everything we do for her.” But, he said, other kids aren’t so lucky. Other kids lose their moms every day, he said.

Theotis J. Murry, 13, of Elgin said he got involved with organizing Pink Day at Ellis because his aunt passed away from breast cancer. And Komen for the Cure estimates 39,510 people, mostly women, will lose their lives to breast cancer this year.

“You can’t do anything without your mom,” Mario said. “Your mom is your everything. She’s the one who made you and gets you through thick and thin.”

Turnquist asked the eighth-grader to find a teacher to sponsor his event, and he immediately asked eighth-grade science teacher Laura Kasper, herself a breast cancer survivor. Kasper had shared her story with students this year in a discussion about medical advances.

That was “unbelievably touching,” she said.

Mario then asked about 10 kids to be on his Pink Day committee, Kasper said. For the past few weeks, they came in at 7:30 a.m., before school started, and spent lunches in the teacher’s science lab to plan and make posters and pink construction paper ribbons for every door and window at Ellis.

They made announcements in the morning and sold wristbands to their schoolmates that let them dress out of uniform Friday.

Putting their heads together, they also came up with the idea to paint a colorful mural in one of the school hallways, which they stayed after school until 6:30 p.m. Thursday to finish, Mario said. That mural shows hands of every color surrounding a pink ribbon underneath the words, “Ellis Lends a Helping Hand to Fight Cancer.”

While planning the event, Mario said he realized, “all these ideas were good, so I decided we should collaborate on it and make it better.”

And, those committee members — such as Berenice Rodriguez, 13, of Elgin — said they saw a change in Mario, who admitted “I wasn’t the greatest student last year.”

Planning the event showed them “we could do something,” Berenice said. Already, they said, they’ve decided on another cause that has impacted them they plan to draw attention to next: bullying.

Another thing those students have done is move their science teacher to tears several times during the planning, Kasper said.

“You hear so many negative things about middle school kids,” she said. “You don’t see this side of them — the empathy. They just need to be given the opportunity.”

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