Valencia students raise money for classmate with leukemia

Julia Unas and Ayden Reading show off bracelets that they sold to support Pedro Roman, a Valencia football player recently diagnosed with cancer. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Even the smallest clubs can make a world of a difference. At least that’s how Valencia High School juniors Julia Unas and Ayden Reading see it.

When they heard that fellow Viking Pedro Roman, 15, had been diagnosed with leukemia only a few weeks ago, and that he wouldn’t be able to finish his junior varsity football season, Unas and Reading came up with a simple idea using the campus club they founded, Help4Kids.

Their idea would eventually gain the support of their student body, school community and, even Amazon’s billionaire owner, Jeff Bezos.

“Since Pedro is an athlete, I know how difficult it is to be taken away from your sport every day, your teammates, your coaches, to not be able to do what you love,” Unas said, adding that she and Reading are both on the Valencia swim team. “I can’t imagine not swimming, and someone at this age, especially a sophomore, shouldn’t have to be worrying about this.”

“Right when we heard about it, we felt immediately that something needed to happen,” said Reading. “To have to worry about this at any age shouldn’t happen, and we wanted to advocate for this originally, and how we can help (Pedro) and get back on the football field and in the classroom as soon as possible.”

After having started their club last year and working together with the help of only a handful of students, Unas and Reading have donated to local classrooms, raised funds for disease research and volunteered at local food pantries. But they decided a way they could help Roman would be something they hadn’t tried before: to create and sell bracelets in honor of Roman.

Bracelets, wristbands and dog tag necklaces were either sold or given to students in support of Pedro Roman. Cory Rubin/The Signal.

Written on the bracelets are phrases like “#RomanStrong,” “#FightCancer,” “Hope and Courage” and “Fight Against Cancer.” They’re also in an orange color scheme, the official color of Leukemia Cancer Awareness Month.

Unas said she went into her own pocket to have the bracelets made and, with Reading getting the designs approved by Roman’s family — who were reportedly excited to hear about the fundraiser — the two students got 800 bracelets printed in a matter of a few days. They also made ribbons and received a donation from West Ranch High School ASB of dog tag necklaces donning the color orange in support of Roman.

After receiving permission to sell them at their school brunch last Friday, hours before the Valencia varsity football team had their game against Loyola High School, Unas and Reading did not know if anyone would be interested in buying them. They distributed fliers and prayed to maybe sell at least half of them.

They were pleasantly surprised, they both said.

“During first and second brunches, we sold the bracelets to students. We sold out in a 30-minute time span,” said Unas. “We had been planning to sell them at the football game, but we sold out.”

“At the football game, we had a donation table, and people who were donating, we were painting with face and body paint little orange ribbons,” said Reading. “We walked around the bleachers asking for donations.”

Bezos was at the Valencia vs. Loyola game supporting someone close to him, according to Reading. The Amazon founder saw the orange colors covering the Valencia bleachers, and decided to come up and shake hands with Reading — and donate $100 to the fund.

In total, Help4Kids raised nearly $1,000 for Roman’s family, which Unas and Reading plan to give to Roman in person next week.

“(We) wanted him to know that Valencia supports him,” Unas said, “and we want what’s best for him.”

Those looking for more information about Help4Kids and their support for Pedro Roman can contact them at their email, [email protected], or visit their website at https://sites.google.com/my.hartdistrict.org/help4kids.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up to assist the Roman family with the cost of medical bills located at https://www.gofundme.com/f/1r3sk2mwxc.

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