On a recent Friday evening, about 200 students gathered for a dance at St. Andrew Apostle School in Silver Spring, where they crowded together on the dance floor to do the “Macarena,” the “Chicken Dance,” the “Hokey Pokey,” and the “Electric Slide,” and danced to classic rock songs like “Shout,” “Stayin’ Alive” and “Car Wash” and to newer hits like “Thunder.” They jumped, clapped and danced to the music, and joined criss-crossing dance lines that snaked through the school’s multipurpose room.
But this school dance was different, because it was the third annual dance-a-thon to benefit the Lilabean Foundation, which supports research to find a cure for pediatric brain cancer. The young dancers sponsored by family members and friends raised more than $30,000 for that cause. Each year, nearly 4,000 children in the United States – about 11 kids each day – are diagnosed with brain cancer.
One of the dancers, Allie Cook, a fifth grader from St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring, described the purpose of the dance-a-thon as “kids helping kids.”
For Allie and many of the other dancers, the cause is one they can personally relate to. She noted that one of her sister’s best friends has battled this condition, and she has a friend whose brother died at the age of 4 of that kind of cancer.
That point was echoed by Maeve Tuohey, a St. Bernadette’s eighth grader who was volunteering that evening and helping to lead some of the dances. “I’ve known a couple of kids in my area who had brain tumors… They’re so brave, and (I’ll do) anything I can do to help,” she said, adding, “Just by doing little things, little things can make a big impact.”
The dancers, who were in prekindergarten through the fifth grade at their schools, came from St. Andrew Apostle and St. Bernadette, and also from Holy Redeemer in Kensington, St. Patrick and St. Elizabeth in Rockville, Blessed Sacrament in Washington, and Montgomery Knolls and Forest Knolls, nearby public elementary schools.
The work of the Lilabean Foundation is inspired by children including Lila Giroux, a 9-year-old third grader at St. Andrew Apostle School who was diagnosed with brain cancer eight years ago and has been treated over the years at Children’s National Medical Center. Since it was started in 2011, the foundation has raised more than $650,000 that has supported research at the Brain Tumor Institute at the medical center.
Nicole Giroux, Lila’s mother who serves as the foundation’s executive director, said efforts like the dance-a-thon and the group’s fall ball are designed to raise awareness of and tell the story of how children are affected by pediatric brain cancer and raise funds for research to find cures.
“We’re really on the brink of seeing some new available treatment options,” she said.
The response of the schoolchildren and their parents supporting the cause is “overwhelming,” Lila’s mom said, adding that the children learn that they can make a difference. “It’s just great to see – it’s community in the greater sense of the word, seeing people come together” to help, she said.
Nicole Giroux and her husband Michael also have a son, Braden, who is a sixth grader at St. Bernadette School. “Our faith has carried us through this journey… As a family, what its done is brought us closer to Jesus and all the sacraments, and transformed our faith,” she said, expressing gratitude for the special Masses with healing prayers for children that Father Dan Leary, the pastor at St. Andrew Apostle Parish, started there.
Father Leary said through their prayers and by supporting efforts like the dance-a-thon, the children in need of healing and their fellow students “become real missionaries to bring God’s love to people around them.”
Michael Giroux also expressed gratitude for the support of the school and parish communities, saying, “This is a cause we’re all working for together.”
His daughter Lila, who joined friends and classmates on the dance floor, also said she was thankful for the outpouring of support, and added, “I like dancing and having fun with my friends.”
The dancers that evening also included Maddie Highfill, an 8-year-old third grader at St. Bernadette School who is doing well after having surgery for brain cancer this past fall.
Maddie’s mom, Jessica Colburn, noted, “This is a way to show our children how important it is to give back, and to show up for people in our community and beyond who need help.”
She said it was fitting that the dance was held at a school, because the event offered an important lesson for the children who participated.
“We often tell our kids we are the face of God on this earth, that we show God’s love to others through our actions and our words,” she said. “Faith is something you do. Love is our mission. That’s what we try to live.”
(For information on how to help this cause, go to www.lilabeanfoundation.com .
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