I first heard about DKMS through a friend whose grandmother had lost a battle to leukemia. DKMS is an international non-profit organization that works to fight blood cancer and is the world’s largest network of bone marrow donor centers, with over 8 million registered donors worldwide. Although the organization was not new to me, I knew very little about blood cancer, bone marrow donation, and registering donors. I was put in contact with the DKMS US team who advised me on how to execute my initiative to create a DKMS high school club. After many Skype calls, reviewing materials about blood cancer, bone marrow donation, and volunteer training for donor drives, I became eager to teach others. I was empowered by the idea that at such a young age, I could play a part in giving blood cancer patients, like my friend’s grandmother, another chance at life.
During the many conversations I had with DKMS, I learned that bone marrow donation and blood donation drives are different in nature. I assumed that all adults were already aware of this information! However, that was not the case. When I first met with the GHS’s student activities coordinator to pitch the idea for the club, I was surprised to find out that there were no clubs at our school dedicated to fighting blood cancer. I was even shocked when she told me that a DKMS club would conflict with the annual blood drive hosted at our school.
This was the moment I realized our community was in need of an organization to educate, raise awareness, and clear misconceptions regarding blood cancer and bone marrow donations.
I explained to my student activity coordinator that a DKMS club would not interfere with the blood drives because they serve different purposes. Little did I know this would be the first of many explanations of this kind that I would give throughout my years in high school and continue to the present day.
With DKMS’s support, creating the club was not as challenging as I feared it would be! At my high school, I appointed a co-president and vice-president, and together, the three of us asked our biology teacher to be our faculty advisor. We got our club approved and promoted it to some of our friends. By the beginning of our sophomore year, we hosted our first club fair. With a poster detailing our goals to raising awareness; fundraising for DKMS; and hosting drives to register bone marrow donors, along with a lot of candy distribution we successfully signed up many incoming freshmen to our club mailing list. On the other end, DKMS had it all covered — they sent us all the volunteer training material we needed to properly train and educate our club volunteers. The organization also sent us all the supplies for the drives such as swab kits, registration forms, tablecloths, flyers, etc.
The Greenwich High School Delete Blood Cancer Club (GHS DBC) hosted many donor recruitment drives around Greenwich. On a particularly sunny Sunday morning, we were in front of the Starbucks on our busiest shopping street trying to recruit passerby on their leisurely weekend stroll. It had been long-past our scheduled tabling time, but for some reason, we just didn’t want to leave. An elderly man walked out of the Starbucks and handed us cake-pops, “this is very kind of you girls,” he said. That day, I understood that from a search for a leadership position with the goal of boosting my resume and impressing colleges, I found a passion for a cause that would remain with me for years to follow. As much as we loved the cake-pops and the recognition, it was the thought of doing something small that can have a monumental impact on others that encouraged us to register as many donors as we could. It kept us coming for many more Sundays afterward.
Throughout my time in high school, GHS’s DKMS Club hosted over 10 donor drives, registered over 100 bone marrow donors, and raised around three thousand dollars for the organization. In 2017, I won an award as DKMS’s High School Ambassador and represented GHS at a DKMS ceremony honoring supporters at the Mets’ Citi Field Stadium. Along with those successes, being the Founder and President of GHS DKMS Club helped me grow as a person. Not only did it supplement my education, as I was able to see academic concepts take form in the real world, it also taught me leadership skills which allowed me to accomplish other personal & professional goals in the future. Through organizing donor drives and bake sales, amongst other creative projects, I cultivated event planning skills, practiced critical thinking, learned to lead a group while at the same time, collaborate within the group — things I could not have learned in the traditional classroom.
DKMS provided me with my first experience working in an office. I volunteered with its Donor Recruitment and Special Events departments in the New York office during the summer of my junior year. By the time I was applying to colleges, both the GHS DKMS Club and my experience as a volunteer at the office were key parts of my resume and the subject of essays in many college applications. DKMS continues to have a lasting impact on my life — this summer, after finishing my freshman year at Georgetown University, I am interning with DKMS’s Donor Recruitment department, focusing on expanding its High School project so students around the country can easily create their own DKMS club, gain leadership skills, and share the opportunities I was able to experience with DKMS.