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Cancer is a cruel disease that shows no discrimination in who it attacks. Over 1.9 million new cases were projected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2022 alone. (1)  But when one school system with a total of just 345 employees has 5 of those employees diagnosed with and fighting cancer to stay alive in the last year, the reality of the dreaded disease struck close to home for the students, teachers, and staff of the Vidalia City School System.

It especially struck close to home for one student at Vidalia High School who has seen what the effects of cancer can do to someone she is close to and decided to do something about it. "The most important person to me was Ms. Donna (Collins). She helped me so much with work-based learning, and she did my job interview," said VHS senior Emma Vinson. "And so, when I heard that she had cancer, I wanted to do something so that we could support her and let her know that the community was behind her."

And so, Vinson began visualizing what she could do to help "Ms. Donna" when she found out others inside the system were also battling cancer, "it just came out that all these other teachers we love so much, they're suffering too. And so, it became a cause for the many in our system that has helped all of us," said Vinson.

So, in true Emma Vinson style, she began organizing a "Fall Festival" to help raise money to benefit those fighting cancer, "this was Emma's idea coming to fruition," said Business Education Instructor Anna Helms. "I told her when she asked, that's a big idea, and we may need to rethink this. And she said we got this. And she did."

With help from Helms and other teachers, Vinson and her fellow students raised over $5000.00 for those system employees on Monday night at the Festival. "You can really see how much those individuals mean to our community and our students, too," said Vinson. We had help from Beta, who offered service hours, and many teams wanted to come together either for one last time, like the softball team, or come together pre-season, like our soccer team, to help."

The event, which had 23 booths, saw people from all around the community and school system come out and support the cause. "It just makes me proud that all these kids came out and want to support the effort." Said Helms. "You know, It's more than just community service, and it's more than just money. It's their hearts that are so big and caring, and doing this just makes me so happy."

VHS HOSA Sponsor and instructor for Health Therapeutic Services Shellie Cleghorn said that seeing the students rise up for an occasion like this was special. "It's absolutely unbelievable. I love the fact that this gives us hope for this generation. So many people are so negative about these kids. And I think that they are showing up and showing out tonight for a good cause. And I love it."

Vinson, who will graduate in May, finished by saying that she is so thankful for all of her fellow students who joined in to help make the event a success, "it's turned out a lot bigger than I thought. When we began, I thought we'd ask people, and they'd be like, "Ugh, Homecoming just started, Toombs Week just started. We're busy. We're tired. We don't want to do this." But everybody really chipped in and did their job and decided to help for something bigger, and I am so appreciative."

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