Hillside Elementary School student Justin Koch may only be in fourth grade, but cancer has affected many people in his life.
Last year, when his teacher, Tracy Newhart, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he took initiative, setting up a Crush Cancer Walk, Run, and Bike Race to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
“Last year, after Ms. Newhart got sick, I just thought, ‘How about we do a run,’” Koch said.
This year, the event became a community happening in the Ramblewood Farms neighborhood. About 270 people attended the second annual race on June 1. More than $4,600 was raised, a huge increase from the $1,100 raised in 2013.
For Koch, seeing so many people come out in support of his cause was a great feeling.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Half of my friends are there and some people who we’ve never met came.”
“I was blown away that he actually took the initiative and put that race together,” Newhart said. “I was amazed at the community’s participation in it as well.”
This year, Koch dedicated the race to a few people. His grandfather had died earlier in the year from brain cancer, and he wanted to help those who were still fighting.
“He had taken a lot of medications and it was very expensive,” Koch said.
Koch also dedicated the event to 13-year-old Danny Hill from Medford. Hill has been diagnosed with bone cancer. The Koch family are acquaintances with the Hills. Half of the money raised this year went to the Hill family.
The race has become so popular thanks to the Ramblewood Farms and Hillside Elementary communities. The event itself is low-scale, taking place in the local neighborhood. However, friends, classmates, neighbors and others have continued to spread the word about the event.
“We turned it into a Student Council event where we promoted it,” Newhart said. “Nine teachers came out.”
“The school was very supportive,” said Justin’s mother Meredith. “The school itself raised $800, which was amazing.”
Justin also did a lot of the promoting on his own.
“He handed out papers around the class and he got a ton of people out there,” Meredith said.
The Koch family has always been involved in community service. They go to places such as the Ronald McDonald House to volunteer.
The cancer race wasn’t even the first race Justin held. He organized his first fundraiser after Hurricane Sandy and raised $400 for the American Red Cross.
“I did a lesson in social studies and I talked what it is to be a good citizen,” Newhart said.
Justin’s efforts are not going unrecognized. Three days after the run, he received a citation from state Sen. Diane Allen congratulating him on his accomplishments.
Putting the race together each year is something Justin loves to do. He said he is ready to put one together again for next year.
Newhart believes the event has become a testament to how hard Justin works to help others.
“Justin is just an amazing young man in that he wants to actually make a difference in the world,” she said.