When I was 10, my friend’s mother back in Annapolis, Maryland, was diagnosed with cancer, and I was really upset and wanted to do something about it. My family had just moved to Ellicottville from Annapolis, and my father saw some information about the Ride for Roswell, Western New York’s largest fundraiser to raise money for cancer research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.
We signed up but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to raise the $100 minimum necessary to ride. But I tried really hard and contacted everyone I knew and raised over $4000 that year!
So the next year I set a goal of $5000 and raised $6355. Then my dad was deployed to Afghanistan the next year and I thought about not doing it because I missed him but I went ahead with it and set a goal to raise $10,000 and ended up raising $22,409, and was one of the Top 10 fundraisers out of 8000 participants that year. My dad even rode a bike he borrowed from a Dutch fighter pilot at his base at Mazar-e Sharif and rode at the same time over the same distance on Ride day to support Roswell too.
The next year, when my dad got back from Afghanistan, I wanted to raise more even though a lot of people hinted that people might have given so much because of my dad being in Afghanistan. “Sympathy bucks,” was what my dad said. Well I set a goal to beat my total from the year before and I did, I raised $22,525, putting me in the Top 10 again.
At around this time, a news reporter was interviewing me and asked me a really good question: “Why are you doing this for Roswell?”
I thought about it and said, “because cancer won’t cure itself, we all have to do whatever we can to help, and this is what I can do support cancer research and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.”
My goal was $25,000 last year and I raised $29,805… ALMOST $30,000. My goal this year, as you can imagine, is $30,000 (so I don’t have to say “almost” when people ask me how much I raised!). And with the ride happening this week, I am currently at $27,460 and nearing that $30,000 goal. I also started a team which has grown to 40 other people raising money for Roswell, many of them first time participants including some of my friends from school.
The best thing about the donors who support me in raising money for Roswell is that many of them have never given to Roswell before. They are from all over the country and have very interesting jobs and lives. One of my supporters is a dentist in Alaska who raced in and finished the Iditarod Dog Sled Race! Another is a friend in Hawaii whose grandmother was a lady-in-waiting for the last queen of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani. I have many donors from the Washington, D.C. area where I used to live and my mom and dad worked including several former congressmen from both political parties and even Hillary Clinton’s former chief of staff in the Senate and President Donald Trump’s White House Counsel. Also some corporate CEO’s, soldiers and sailors, doctors and lawyers, teachers and college presidents, and large and small business owners and employees. Even one of my favorite actors on the Disney Channel gave me some autographs to give away to people who donated at a certain level. People with so many different backgrounds but united by one thing, the desire to help, as I’ve said for the past five years, “GET RID OF CANCER!”
To learn more about Roswell Park Cancer Institute visit https://www.roswellpark.org/
One of my earliest supporters was my Uncle Dale Kissinger, who was a retired Colonel in the Air Force. He was usually one of the first people to donate every year, and during the time since I started fundraising he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. I went to his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery where he was buried as the hero he was. Unfortunately there are several people who supported me in the Ride in the past who have died from cancer over the years and I learn about their stories and ride for them every year. One person who I emailed for years but never responded or donated sent me an email this year saying that he just found out he has cancer and felt bad for not having donated before and gave this year. I keep a list of people who have asked me to ride in honor or in memory of someone they know who has or had cancer. It’s a long, long list.
Of course every once in a while I’ll get an email back from someone saying that they won’t be able to give and to take them off the ‘distribution list’ — I have to tell them that I don’t have a ‘distribution list’ because I email everyone individually, but I will certainly not bother them with emails anymore and then I thank them for getting back to me. I sent out over 3,000 emails last year and only usually receive one or two of those emails back each year. Most people just ignore it. And that’s fine. I’ll keep on trying until they tell me to stop!
I have really gotten to know the staff at the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation and especially the Founder of the Ride for Roswell, Mitch Flynn, who is such an awesome person! I never miss an opportunity to go to their events and was so happy when they nominated me for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Young Philanthropist Award last year and Mitch and the group all showed up at the lunch where I was able to speak about it. I really love raising money for cancer research at Roswell and will do it for as long as I can! The ride is this weekend and I’m so excited. And… my website is http://give.roswellpark.org/goto/sammi if you want to follow my progress!
Samantha Van Wicklin is a freshman at Ellicottville Central School in Western New York. Sammi began fundraising for cancer research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute when she was 10 years old and has raised over $100,000 for Roswell since then. She plays softball and volleyball for her school teams, plays percussion in her school band, and enjoys skiing, crafting, reading and traveling.