Leisure Cover Stories

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Riley Juenger was quite young when she was moved to do great things. She was in fourth grade at Visitation Academy when a girl named Molly Gleason, a couple of years her senior, died of leukemia. “It made an enormous impression on me,” says Juenger, now a junior at the University of Mississippi and recently named Student of the Year by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society-Gateway Chapter (LLS). The Student of the Year Campaign is a fundraising competition in which students who have demonstrated leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy raise funds to benefit the society. Juenger received the accolade after raising a whopping $41,386 for the nonprofit over a short 10-week period.

“Even though I was quite young [when Molly died], I was so aware of the unfairness,” Juenger remembers, “and was acutely concerned that she had suffered pain.” Juenger began visiting the society with her mother, a volunteer, and soon was taking part in LLS 5K and 10K fundraisers, along with Light The Night walks to honor those touched by blood cancer. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help out,” she says.

Another St. Louis chapter nominee, Cooper Harrison—who came in second after Juenger with just more than $36,000—has a particular connection to organizations like LLS since he himself was diagnosed with leukemia at age 7. Now a junior at Quincy University and a robust football player, he calls himself an active ambassador for LLS. “The competition might be over, but I’m still raising money, reaching out to the community through social media,” Harrison says, adding that he’s aiming for a grand total of $50,000 by the end of June. He also is philanthropy chair of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Quincy.

Debbie Kersting, LLS-Gateway’s executive director, explains that to provide inspiration to the nominees, a human face is given to the competition each year—usually two children who have the disease. This year, it was T.J., 6, and Lily, 4, who kept the nominees focused. Both youngsters were diagnosed with leukemia, which Kersting says is the second most common cancer killer of children under the age of 20. Lymphoma is the third.

“During the competition, Lily was in treatment and we weren’t sure she was going to make it to the May 5 gala,” Juenger recalls. “But she was there—laughing and running around—and everyone had smiles on their faces. That’s what this is all about.”

Juenger, Harrison and the other nominees raised a grand total of just above $100,000, which will assist area cancer patients and their families with medical expenses, educational programs and other support.

“The leadership these young people showed throughout the 10-week competition was unbelievable,” Kersting says. “The chapter is so grateful.”

Pictured: Young leukemia patients T.J. and Lily
Photo: Tim Parker Photography

The mission of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is to work toward a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve quality of life for patients and their families. The Student of the Year Campaign is a fundraising competition in which students who have demonstrated leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy raise funds to benefit the society. Pictured on the cover with youngsters T.J. and Lily are LLS student ambassadors (seated from left): Sarah Noble, Gokul Venkatachalam, Nivi Biju and Cooper Harrison; (standing) Matthew Griese, Adam DeGuire and Riley Juenger 

Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo by Tim Parker Photography