There’s no doubt 13-year-old Columbus middle schooler Charli Preister is a superhero. She’s got the heart and fighting spirit, all that is lacking is a cape.
Charli was only 7 months old when she was diagnosed with stage three neuroblastoma, a cancer often found in the small glands on top of the kidneys (adrenal glands) that can develop in the belly, chest, neck, pelvis and bones. She’s now 12 years cancer-free, but the disease remains an important part of her life.
Recently, Charli got on the Facebook page of her mother, Brenda, shared her story publicly for the first time and made a plea to the community to help her raise $100 to go toward Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha and local nonprofit Sammy’s Superheroes. The latter raises awareness for all childhood cancers and funds for research.
Charli’s story resonated with Columbus. After only 48 hours, the effort had fundraised more than $2,500 for Sammy’s Superheroes alone.
“I felt pretty good about it,” said Charli, who enjoys playing soccer and hanging out with her puppy. “I was happy to share my story.”
Charli, her mother and the rest of their family were just some of more than 1,000 people from Columbus, throughout the state and much of the Midwest who on Sunday afternoon braved the heat and showed up at Lakeview High School for the Sixth Annual Glow Gold Honors.
A signature event of Sammy’s Superheroes, it’s about honoring children fighting cancer, celebrating survivors and remembering the fallen angels. It was fitting being that September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
“It just shows every year we do it the support the community has,” said Nathan Karges, a Sammy’s Superheroes Board of Directors member, of the massive attendance. “This event especially is really cool because it’s not so much about our organization but (rather) the families going through this and (those who) have gone through this … It’s a neat event.”
Glow Gold Honors proved to be quite the community celebration, mirroring the feel of a block party. An array of music played loudly through the speakers while attendees ate burgers and hot dogs, shopped local vendors set up onsite and took advantage of the free-fall tower, climbing walls and bungee trampoline for all to use.
“This is a place for families to be together and enjoy time together,” said Erin Nahorny, current president of Sammy’s Superheroes Board of Directors and mother of the “Sammy” who the nonprofit is named after.
Sam, as he goes by now, is 11. Although his cancer is still present, he is in stable condition. The young boy was all smiles and enjoying a snow cone on Sunday, noting he was liking seeing so many people happy and having fun.
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The foundation has prided itself on creating a network of support for families who are currently or have battled childhood cancer. Families that were honored that night were gifted and wearing T-shirts from the nonprofit bearing the phrase “No One Fights Alone,” a message that truly resonated with everybody there. Brenda said that was a big reason why she and her family came out.
“It’s pretty amazing because when (Charli) was diagnosed in 2007 there was not a network of families, so knowing that Nebraska has an organization such as Sammy’s that is able to bring families together for support is great,” she said. “Whether you’re newly diagnosed or someone who has been through the process years ago, it’s nice to know there’s a resource in our state and a network of parents who can be there for each other, for those who are unfortunate and have to go through it.
“We know how important it is for families to have that network of support. That was something we didn’t have in 2007.”
What’s more, area businesses and organizations helped make the event successful once again. Hy-Vee, along with Pillen Family and CSS farms, donated everything for the burger bash. Blossoms Floral and Gift supplied flowers that went toward a unique giant ribbon display in which attendees donated flowers to fill it. Commonwealth Electric Company of the Midwest provided the free-fall tower, among other things, while many others donated funds to serve as event sponsors.
Additionally, all vendors on hand donated a nice portion of their proceeds from the day back to Sammy’s. The goal of the event was to raise at least $50,000 for childhood cancer research.
Before the night was over numerous families were recognized and attendees were treated to dance performances, as well as one from a Columbus Public Schools choir, and had the chance to hear two guests speak: Anisa Hoie, a Children’s Hospital & Medical Center oncology nurse, and Alexa Lewis, a mother whose son, Knox, lost his battle with cancer at age 13 months in 2012.
By the end, there had been plenty of smiles, tears and laughs shared. This had been a reminder that nobody battling childhood cancer was alone – they were all “superheroes” together. That was the purpose of the nonprofit from its inception, according to Nahorny.
“The whole point was not just that Sam was fighting cancer, but that there is this community of support. That has always stuck with me,” Nahorny said while watching dozens of kids and parents walk by with smiles on their faces. “We’re going to build them up and show them they’re supported no matter what – they’ve got a family with us. We’re going to be there.”
To donate or get involved, visit www.sammyssuperheroes.org/get-involved/donate.html.
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.