While most people are thinking pink for breast cancer awareness this month, McKinney resident Jennifer Santos has a passion for purple — the purple project, otherwise known as the McKinney Boyd Athletics Community Project, to be specific. Santos’ dream is to help those in McKinney who are suffering from any type of active cancer find some financial relief in dealing with everyday needs.
Inspired by a video of a football team’s “pink out” to raise funds for cancer research, awareness and support in Lowell, Mich., Santos began to think that the football team at Boyd should do something to make a difference in McKinney.
“We have such a huge school community and the kids don’t do anything. They don’t get involved and they don’t have a passion for it (cancer) because it’s not in front of them,” Santos said. “Everybody has some sort of tie to cancer, even if it’s a friend of a neighbor, we all know someone who is struggling with the disease. I wanted to do a project that helped connect the kids with people right here in our community.”
Santos pitched the project concept to Boyd’s campus athletic coordinator and head football coach Don Drake and to MISD Athletic Director Shawn Pratt. Both men supported the concept and with the support of Boyd’s football booster club.
The video spurred Santos to take action and the Boyd Athletic Community Project was born. In the fall of 2012, Santos and the booster club planned a 5K run to begin raising funds to work toward their goal of raising enough money to supplement local families who have a family member who is actively battling cancer.
“This project is unique,” Pratt said. “I think in terms of the team participation, the players have a true ownership of the project because of the way the model is set up. Being connected to the real-life community at large affords them the opportunity to see first hand that they can make a difference in the lives of those who are dealing with cancer.”
The individual must be nominated by a Boyd student or faculty, then must go through an interview process. Nominees must be actively dealing with cancer and must live within the McKinney city limits. The decision is than made by Santos, Coach Drake and the booster club.
“It doesn’t matter what type of cancer someone has, we help anyone. We don’t pay medical bills,” Santos said earnestly. “We try to enhance the everyday life of those who are going through it (cancer). All the money that we raise stays in McKinney and goes directly to help McKinney families.”
Santos further explained that often families need help with meals, with getting their home cleaned or someone needs transportation to treatment.
“Sometimes families need things we don’t even think of — it might be a hotel room, sometimes it might be a wig. Many things you just don’t think of until you talk to the family. I love the creativity of trying to figure out how we can help them,” Santos said.
“Everyone has some sort of tie to cancer. Everyone knows someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor, who has cancer,” Santos said.
Coach Drake said, “Helping young people understand the value of giving of yourself to others and expecting nothing in return is an important life lesson.”
Where does Santos’ get her passion for tackling this often deadly disease? Personal experience. Santos’ sister, who lives in Michigan, has been dealing with a tumor between her brain stem and spinal cord for 21 years. Santos was her caretaker for many years.
“The first five years were tough. Her life was hanging on by a thread during that time. I don’t know how she has learned how to adapt to this life,” Santos said.
And that passion is seen in Santos’ commitment to the project, now in its second year.
“I just want people to get involved because everybody has somebody they know (who has experienced cancer). We know where our money goes – you might even know the person so you are really helping someone you know. It truly stays in our community,” Santos said with emotion. “We are a great community and we should be able to make a difference.”
Santos said she would like to double the amount of funds that the project brought in last year. And she would like to see greater participation in this year’s 5K run on Oct. 6.
“Getting community and students involved is a top priority right now. Coach Drake would like all of athletics to participate and eventually get it to be a school-wide project,” Santos said.
“I can’t say enough about the leadership and hard work that Jennifer Santos has provided both last year and this year,” Drake said. “Her vision and commitment to this project has been exemplary and I am very appreciative of her dedication to helping us impact the lives of individuals in our McKinney community.”
Last year the group raised approximately $10,000 and was able to donate funds to four McKinney residents who were in the throes of dealing with cancer. Members of Boyd’s football team, along with Drake, Pratt and Santos, delivered checks and experienced the reactions of the recipients first hand.
Coach Drake said, “I do believe that after seeing the positive impact that was made last year that our kids understand the importance of what we are trying to do. I do believe they are grasping the concept. Our goal this year is to double our impact. Hopefully we can achieve that by more of our young people and their families getting involved in the project. We are already ahead of where we were a year ago at this time. We will know very soon if we are able to reach our goal.”
“We just hope we can keep making more money, so we can give away more,” Santos said. “Someday, I’d like to see all three high schools participate (in the project).”
The Let ‘Em Run 5K, the first event to raise cancer awareness and fund the fight against the disease will take place on Sunday, October 6 at 8 a.m. at the McKinney Boyd High School north parking lot. (600 N Lake Forest Dr. 75070) The registration fee is $30. Student registration is discounted. Proceeds from the annual Let ‘Em Run 5K will go directly to families struggling with cancer who live in McKinney. Register for the Let ‘Em Run 5K.