For 13-year-old eighth-graders Elijah Nelson, Jackson Parke, and Benjamin Silverstein, cancer is personal – the longtime best friends each have a parent who has been affected by the disease.
And so, as part of a community service project at Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, the boys chose to raise funds for a cause very close to their hearts. “We have all been affected by cancer, and we know the importance of places that do cancer research and treatment,” Jackson said. “We wanted to do something that would help other people going through this.”
As athletes who play a variety of sports, the boys settled on a basketball tournament to raise funds for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “We thought it would be fun to do something we love, but for an important cause,” Elijah said.
For weeks, they worked tirelessly to plan, organize, and get the word out using any means at their disposal – flyers distributed around school and in their community, group texts and emails to friends and family, and posts on social media encouraging people to participate and donate.
Their hard work paid off. On a Friday afternoon in February, students, parents, and friends gathered at Saint Andrew’s School for a 3v3 basketball tournament, with Jackson, Benjamin, and Elijah serving as referees. The event also included giveaways, music, food, and prizes, and the boys sold bracelets in honor of their parents.
“We didn’t think that we would have a good turnout,” Jackson said.
But people did come, and, through tournament entry fees, merchandise, and other donations, the boys raised a total of $5,276 for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “People I didn’t even know came,” said Benjamin, who had shared the event widely on social media.
Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, expressed his gratitude for the boys’ efforts. "We so admire these young men, for their commitment to making a difference and supporting cancer research at Sylvester,” said Dr. Nimer, who is also the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology.
Their shared experiences have brought the friends closer together. “We’ve been best friends for years,” they said. “And we’re like brothers because of what we’ve been through together.”
And while they’re not sure what the future holds, they are happy that, as a group, they were able to make an impact. “We’re so happy to be able to share our cause,” Benjamin said. “Maybe it will inspire other people to get involved.”