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Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

Area high school's unique fundraising week targets U research

Daniel Saltzman, M.D., Ph.D.

Ask any principal. It takes a lot to quiet an auditorium full of high school students.

But when a video about the cancer research of University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital surgeon-in-chief Daniel Saltzman, M.D., Ph.D., played last February at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, the students watched in silence.

Saltzman’s laboratory was one of three beneficiaries of Sibley’s GOFA Week, short for “Give Once for All.” It’s a week full of creative fundraising activities to help students learn about philanthropy.

“Their desire to give back is amazing,” says Alison Footh, a social studies teacher at Sibley and adviser to the school’s student council, which plans the week’s fundraisers. “I think it’s important for students to have a taste of volunteering. We cannot expect them to become adults who give back in their communities without having been introduced to some opportunities.”

Creativity for a good cause

That’s why, at Sibley, giving is fun. Teams of students pay to enter a dodgeball tournament (and the winning student team faces off against a staff team consisting mostly of football and wrestling coaches). Students solicit spare change in the cafeteria in hopes of pitting their favorite (or least favorite) teachers against each other in a sumo wrestling match. And classmates band together to raise enough money to “buy” themselves out of class for an afternoon to watch a comedian/magician.

GOFA has been around for more than 50 years at Henry Sibley High School. It’s a great learning opportunity for the kids, but Footh admits that it’s also a lot of work. Other schools do charity drives but nothing on the scale of GOFA, she says.

“We’ve never heard of any other school doing anything like this,” Footh adds.

This year each of the three beneficiaries received $5,300 as a result of the week’s events.

Henry Sibley High School students

Finding hope in research

Most organizations that apply for GOFA Week grants have some connection to the school’s students. Saltzman is no exception—his daughter Sami graduated in June, and his daughter Hannah will start 10th grade in the fall.

But that doesn’t mean Saltzman’s grant application was a sure win. A group of student council members interviewed him first to find out whether his work piqued their interest. And it definitely did, Footh says.

“They felt really passionate about Dr. Saltzman’s laboratory,” she says. “They really wanted to support him.”

Saltzman and his team are exploring the potential of salmonella, the bacteria transmitted through food that sickens thousands of Americans each year, in fighting cancer in organs surrounding the gut—such as the liver, spleen, and colon—since that’s where salmonella naturally infects the body. (Though Saltzman is a surgeon, one of his specialties is children’s cancer surgery.)

It’s a unique idea that the students found that they could rally around, Footh says.

“Cancer has hit home for so many of them,” she says. “Learning about what Dr. Saltzman does was so inspiring for them. … They look at the studies he has done and the progress he has made, and they have a lot of hope.”

For a tour of Saltzman’s lab, please contact Courtney Billing of the Minnesota Medical Foundation at 612-626-1931 or c.billing@mmf.umn.edu.

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