Never Too Young

Anna and her special Camp Agape friend

Anna and her special Camp Agape friend

Sometimes when the world seems dark, we need to hold the light that much closer to see the goodness that exists. I couldn’t think of a better time to share my interview with one of the brightest teens (as in smarts AND soul) I’ve met: Anna.

Anna, age 18, has been volunteering throughout her childhood. Once she started high school, she became involved with Camp Agape Northwest, an organization that provides an all-expense-paid weeklong overnight camp for the whole family of a child with cancer. This involvement eventually led to Anna’s role in helping to start the Seattle chapter of Cross Out Cancer. Cross Out Cancer Seattle is led by high school students who raise money to support the financial burden of families with a child battling cancer. Anna not only served on the board that started the Seattle chapter, she also became its Director during her Senior year of high school. Below, you will read about her efforts to organize major fundraisers like a 5K run, what serving means to her and how she hopes to continue to volunteer now that she is in college.

Just when things make me question how we can possibly get back on track, I meet teens like Anna who are doing everything they can to make this world a better place. Age doesn’t stop them from lifting others up and out. And I realize we are never too young — or too old — to do the right thing; we just need to jump in and start.

Anna — thank you for your generous spirit and your amazing compassion. Your light is exactly what we need.

Q. Can you tell us about Cross Out Cancer Seattle? How did you became involved and why has this organization become so important to you?

Anna presenting a check from Cross Out Cancer Seattle to Seattle Children’s Hospital

Anna presenting a check from Cross Out Cancer Seattle to Seattle Children’s Hospital

Answer: Cross Out Cancer first began in Tampa, Florida four years ago when my close friend decided to take action to provide financial help for families with a pediatric cancer patient in their local community. The organization was an enormous success, leading to the start of Cross Out Cancer Seattle two years later. For both branches of the non-profit, it all began after our experiences at Camp Agape where we have the privilege of developing powerful relationships with children with cancer, their siblings and their parents. Having a child with cancer is extremely taxing emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually, but it also often results in a large financial burden on the families. Many of the families I have talked to and developed relationships with have shared their financial struggles and the added stress it causes. The vast majority of the money donated to the hospital in regards to pediatric cancer is intended to find a cure, which makes our organization even more unique. Cross Out Cancer Seattle is made up of twenty high school students across the greater Seattle Area with the mission of raising money and support for these families as they fight one of the biggest battles. Last year, we raised $22,000 and this year, we have raised $30,000 for pediatric cancer patients and their families at Seattle Children’s Hospital! All of this money goes to the Cancer Patient Assistance Fund. I began as a board member my junior year of high school, and later took on the challenge of leading the organization my senior year. It was one of the best, and most challenging, tasks I have had the honor of taking. I am so grateful for this experience and our ability to make a positive impact in our community.

Q: As the Director of Cross Out Cancer, what are your primary responsibilities? Will you still hold this position when you go to college?

Answer: As the Director of Cross Out Cancer Seattle, my primary responsibilities involved leading our board of high school students, planning and organizing major fundraisers like our Annual 5K Run, finding sponsors and managing our funds. For the 2017-2018 year, I worked with my partner, Alexis Papanastasiou, who is a rising senior at Lake Washington High School. We mostly shared these responsibilities, but as the older leader, I took on more of the bigger tasks. Now that I have graduated high school, I have passed on this position to Alexis, in addition to bringing in a former board member to work with her to lead the non-profit. I am sad to not be leading the organization anymore, but I am confident that I will always be involved in one way or another. I also plan to organize another SoulCycle Charity Ride in support of Cross Out Cancer in either Seattle or San Jose where I will be attending school.

Q: At what age did you first begin volunteering? Do you remember what sparked your interest in volunteer work?

Answer: My involvement with pediatric cancer patients first began in the summer of 2015 when I volunteered at Camp Agape for the first time. A year later as a junior in high-school, I joined the Cross Out Cancer board when it first started in Seattle. I was 15 when I began volunteering at Agape and 16 when I became involved with Cross Out Cancer. My experiences at Camp Agape were what inspired and motivated me to take on fundraising, which was a very different form of volunteering than I was used to. I practically had zero fundraising experience going into Cross Out Cancer, and I am really proud of how far I have come in taking on this major task.

Q: I know sometimes as a student it’s difficult to make time to engage in community when there’s homework, sports, and general teenage life. How did you balance being a very active high school student with all of the community work you were involved with?

Answer: As a junior and senior in high-school, it was a big challenge to balance my fundraising Cross Out Cancer responsibilities with everything else. I found that balance was extremely important as I piled on the commitments, activities and responsibilities. I attended University Prep which resulted in a rigorous academic course load, in addition to my involvement in athletics, student government, other volunteer commitments, church, and my social life. As a result, Cross Out Cancer took almost all of the time I had left to spare, while also forcing me to give up some of my responsibilities my senior year to do the job justice.

The Cross Out Cancer Seattle 5K Run

The Cross Out Cancer Seattle 5K Run

Q: Why do you choose to give back?

Answer: Giving back has been a crucial aspect of my life, especially for the past year, and it has made it one of the most meaningful times of my life as a result. In my opinion, service is one of the best acts we can do as humans and members of society. If you are able, I believe that it is both a responsibility and an expectation to give back and make that a priority. Growing up in a Christian household, I was taught to take part in philanthropy, so I have always been volunteering at some level, but Cross Out Cancer was a unique opportunity to take action that I was passionate about from the start. My involvement in this organization is helping many children and families, similar to the ones I know through Camp Agape, but it has also given me a tremendous sense of purpose and meaning.

Q: You are starting college this fall and moving to another city. How do you hope to transfer your love of serving to your new community?

Answer: Though I have absolutely loved my work with Cross Out Cancer for the past two years, I am so excited to start a new adventure at Santa Clara and as a result, have new service opportunities! As a I said before, I will definitely be organizing a fundraiser to raise money for XOC, but I am definitely looking forward to switching it up and donating my time to a different cause. There are so many other organizations and causes that I would love to contribute to. I have been looking into different volunteer opportunities on campus and in the area, and will likely be involved in multiple to start.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who think they aren’t old enough to make a difference yet?

Answer: You are NEVER too young to make a difference in your community! We have kids on the Cross Out Cancer board who are only fourteen years old and doing an amazing job. It might feel like an impossible task, and it can be difficult at times to be taken seriously as a young person, but it is completely doable to make an impact in your community at a young age. I would suggest starting small and working up to something bigger, similar to what I did with Cross Out Cancer. If you are passionate enough about a cause or a mission, you should go for it and get involved!

Q: How do you think your kindset has been shaped by the work you do? Who has had the most influence in shaping your kindset?

Answer: My kindset (I LOVE that word) has definitely impacted the work I do and my attitude in general. I think that the more involved I am in service and the more I give back to my community, the more my kindset has changed as a result. My work with Cross Out Cancer, though it mostly involves fundraising, has been a new way of sharing my love with others. This work is not only helping others, but it has easily made me a happier and more grateful person in addition to helping me lead life with not only my brain, but my heart at the same time.

To learn more about the amazing organizations that Anna is part of, please follow:

Instagram: @xoutseattle and @agapenorthwest

Facebook: Cross Out Cancer, Inc. Seattle and Camp Agape Northwest

Websites: Cross Out Cancer Seattle and Camp Agape Northwest