A warm smile was found in downtown Mount Airy last week, the friendly face said hello and asked, “How are you?” to someone she had never met. The goodwill ambassador that day was Jacee Avara outside her aunt Angel Haynes’ cafe, Keep Smiling A’Latte.
Jacee was nominated to participate in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Student of the Year campaign, in which high school students compete to raise the most funds for cancer research.
Starting at the start of the month and running through March 19, she will be raising money for LLS and hosting a big bingo fundraiser on Saturday, March 5 at 5 p.m. at the VFW in Mount Airy. Two weeks later, a gala will be held in Greensboro to announce the winner.
The winner of the competition will be awarded a scholarship. Of twelve teams from the Triad area, his is the first Surry County team to compete.
“It’s an amazing opportunity, once in a lifetime thing,” Jacee said as she relaxed on the sofa in the cafe and reflected on what this chance to make an impact means to her. “It’s like going to Disney World.”
A sophomore at Mount Airy High School, Jacee enjoys writing, mostly poetry, though she’s been known to throw in a short story here and there. True to form of anyone her age, she has yet to confirm her future plans, noting that she wanted to work in law enforcement, had also wanted to be a photographer like her mother or, more recently, teach. English.
Whether at a four-year university or starting locally at Surry Community College, she has her sights set on higher education. She knows the future starts now with the choices she makes at school.
In her freshman year, she will begin the Career and College Promise program in a co-op program with the community college. CCP is a dual-enrollment program that offers high school students a way to begin their college education by earning college credits without tuition.
Not your average lens
Raising funds to cure cancer is a noble ambition for a high school student. There are other kids who would say it’s enough to play soccer or try to play in school because for sure one person can’t have an impact on such a big problem. .
For her, it’s not that simple – because it’s personal. Anyone who has had personal experience battling cancer can attest to the feeling that Jacee and her family know: a hatred of the disease. An insidious thing is cancer, and the seeming randomness with which it can strike knows no bounds.
Such was the case last March when beloved aunt Traci Haynes George was on a girls’ trip. When bruises that did not belong to her appeared, she went to the hospital where an examination led to a diagnosis of leukemia.
“With his lifestyle, it was just very shocking,” Jacee recalled. “She eats healthy, exercises every day, so you’d think – why the hell do I have cancer?”
When the appointment came, Jacee saw it as a chance to show solidarity with her aunt and formed her Surry Working Alongside Traci Team, or Team SWAT. Whether it’s a clever pun on Traci’s time with WorkForce Unlimited, it’s a great name for a worthy cause.
“We started at $30,000 but, knowing myself and my family, I figured we could do better than that. So, I went and got $50,000,” she said of the SWAT team’s new goal, a goal she tracks daily. “It’s going very well.”
Through old-school networking, social media campaigns, a slew of media appearances, and coffee and Heavenly Angels Photography benefit matches, Jacee is on the right track. The Northern Regional Hospital stepped up its efforts with a matching donation of $15,000.
To be nominated to participate in LLS Students of the Year is an honour, an honor that has yet to be bestowed upon a Surry County student, and Jacee was nominated by a family friend to participate.
The impetus for wanting to participate is her aunt Traci. “She’s always been very active in her community, working with Shepherd’s House and the coat racks you see around and outside Donna’s hair salon,” she said of her aunt who has Recently named by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce as the 2021 Mount Airy Citizen of the Year for her tireless work.
“His enthusiasm and energy were contagious. Being around Traci makes you want to be a better person,” wrote Catrina Alexander in her Citizen of the Year nomination. A similar feeling permeated Jacee discussing this contest as her mother beamed across the room.
Even when describing his illness, George adopted an optimistic tone: “I thought to myself, someone has it worse than me, so be grateful for the news you have received. I am grateful for all of this. The hights. The socks. The blessings. The lessons. The setbacks. The returns. All. And I’m on the way back.
Family is of significant importance to Jacee, and she mentioned that leaning on family was a crucial tool for anyone facing a big struggle, like her aunt had. “Stay with your family, they are your biggest circle of support. I’ve learned that through all the things my family and I have been through.
“No matter how you feel, they always told me what you feel is valid. It’s okay to feel that way, but don’t close yourself off to everyone. Don’t close yourself, just be surrounded by love. That’s what helps the most, I think.
Not one to shut up or waver, Jacee has rolled up his sleeves for a seven-week slugfest against a foe who may seem beyond defeat. As fundraising continues until the bingo event in March, Jacee and the SWAT team will do their part – they need the help of the community.
Find information at: https://events.lls.org/gso/triadsoy22/javara
For the wringing hand on today’s youth, Donna Hiatt had it all when she described Tracee Avara, “Who says today’s teenagers have no idea?”