On most days if you were to visit the Cancer Support Community, you would enter a warm and serene environment. On the afternoon of their Youth Halloween Party, however, the giggles and screams of princesses, zombies, and superheroes filled the air with excitement and joy. The Cancer Support Community of Montana (CSC) knows that “the first place cancer metastasis is the family.” Because of this, they have created robust programming to benefit family members of all ages, including youth and young children who are dealing with their own cancer diagnosis or a family member’s. The Halloween Party is just one opportunity for young folk of all ages to come together to embrace life and surround themselves with peers and role models going through similar challenges.
Aspen Roots began in 2010 as a support-group for high schoolers living with their own cancer diagnosis. Since then, it has morphed into an advocacy club for high schoolers that have been affected by cancer in all sorts of ways. Because of two grants from BACF in 2016 – one through our community leadership grant cycle and the other through our Youth Giving Project – Aspen Roots receives staff support and materials so that cost is not a barrier for youth participation. Aspen Roots operates under a powerful manifesto:
“We are united together because we have all been affected by cancer. We have suffered loss, but are not defined by it. We are empowered by advocacy, strengthened by embracing our community, and energized by action. By reaching out to those affected by cancer and helping others in need, we can heal together.”
Not only were the young leaders of Aspen Roots busy facilitating games and art projects for the Halloween Party, the very next day they hosted “Streaking for Cancer” at Bozeman High School. Using the catchy name, Aspen Roots leaders hoped to convince students and faculty members to pay $1.00 to receive a colorful streak in their hair. The $85 dollars raised by this fundraiser will pay for an art class for kids affected by cancer to process their feelings in a healthy way.
Molly, a junior who has been involved with Aspen Roots for a year and a half, explains her motivation to give back through Aspen Roots as “Some community service clubs don’t have a very personal connection to the people they are helping. [Aspen Roots] does. We raise money and we are able to see and support those who benefit from our fundraisers.”
Aspen Roots also provides opportunities for high schoolers to grow as leaders and individuals. Liza, the group’s president, said that Aspen Roots helped her “gain self-confidence and ability to see herself as a leader. I enjoy inspiring new people to be involved and opportunities for responsibility.” Her involvement in Aspen Roots has also helped guide her career path. Liza said, “I saw myself as a teacher, but because of Aspen Roots and the [Biomedical Sciences Program at BHS], I’m now interested in therapeutics for people overcoming cancer or other trauma.”
By engaging youth in meaningful service and philanthropy, Aspen Roots is a true example of community leadership. The group looks forward to growing their membership, raising more funds, and taking on an advocacy role with the state legislature this spring!