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Raising Money for the March of Dimes
I helped my teacher in his time of need
Joel Rembert
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“What’s wrong Mr. Skrilow? Is everything OK?” I asked.

I had just walked into his classroom early to get extra help on an essay. He pretended he had something in his eye, but I knew he was wiping away tears. We’re close, so I asked him again.

“My wife is pregnant with twins and there are complications. Our doctors are telling us not to get too attached,” he said, and started crying silently.

I had no words; I just stared at him and felt so sorry. His face was pale and partially red, and he was shaking. I handed him my essay and sat there until it was time for class.

I’ve known Mr. Skrilow since 6th grade. He’s always been my history teacher, and a fun, caring guy. At the same time, he’s strict; he wants to make sure that everyone succeeds in class. I consider him a mentor. When I needed school supplies or advice when I was having a bad day, he came through. My dad wasn’t in my life and he helped fill that void. He was there for other kids who needed him too.

When I found him crying, I was in his 10th grade honors history class; it was just me and nine other students. For a few months, we all knew something was wrong, we just didn’t know what. Mr. Skrilow is notorious for being a tough teacher who gives lots of essays and quizzes, but he was hardly giving us any work. Plus he was taking off every Friday and Mr. Skrilow rarely took days off.

That day he told the rest of the class what was going on. We all decided to make his life easier by being the best honors students we could. We did all the work with little complaint and passed the global history Regents with high scores.

In December, Mr. Skrilow’s twins were born over two months premature. Insurance didn’t cover the medical costs while they were in intensive care. Fortunately, his wife had a contact at the March of Dimes, and they provided the funds right away. The twins ended up having to stay in the hospital until they were a year old but now, at two years old, they are healthy and thriving.

I Like Fundraising!

The March of Dimes is a charity organization that helps mothers “have full-term pregnancies, support families when something goes wrong and research the problems that threaten the health of babies.” When Mr. Skrilow’s daughters came home healthy he asked me to help him give back to the March of Dimes and I said yes without hesitation. We organized a March of Dimes fundraiser at our school and raised $4,000.

After that I decided to create a March of Dimes club in my school with my friends and we had another successful fundraiser. We wrote essays on why we joined the charity and I posted them on social media. We also created a donation page on their website to raise money. For a one-time event, during parent-teacher meetings, we set up a table in front of Mr. Skrilow’s room so when parents came to talk to him about their students, we talked to them about the March of Dimes and raised money that way. Mr. Skrilow was touched and pleased to see that his students cared so much.

Our goal was to raise an additional $2,000, but instead we raised $4,000. I personally raised $1,000 because an anonymous donor saw my essay online and donated that amount. I was shocked. Mr. Skrilow and I were so happy. I felt emotional during the whole process because I was doing a great thing not just for my teacher, but also for many parents. I felt really happy that we raised more than double what we had hoped for.

Walking up to strangers and asking them to donate money isn’t easy. I often went to Times Square because there are crowds. I remember approaching a tall man on a cold January day. He reeked of cologne and wore sunglasses.

“Hello kind sir, would you like to dona…”

image by YC-Art Dept

“NO!” He cut me off before I was able to finish my sentence and walked away. He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

Persistence Pays Off

I’ve gotten used to not taking these rejections personally. You have to be that way to raise money for a cause. I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded to ask a woman who seemed nice.

She smiled at me so I thought she might be a potential donor. She was short; I remember I had to look down at her. “Hello ma’am, would you like to donate to the March of Dimes? My name is Joel Rembert and I’ve created a club in my school for the charity. Our goal is to raise $2,000. Would you be interested?”

“What is the March of Dimes?” she asked.

“The March of Dimes is a huge non-profit charity that was founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to eradicate polio. Now their new focus is on premature birth. A lot of families are suffering because their children don’t go the full term. Children are born with birth defects that can cripple their lives, or even worse sometimes they die. The March of Dimes provides financial help to families and also funds the research to eliminate premature birth. My group and I want to give a helping hand.”

“How much do you want?” she asked.

“As much as you can give,” I said.

Her smile vanished and she looked serious. She thought about it for a few seconds and then handed me $100. She gave me a hug.

”You’re doing a great thing, young man,” she said, and walked away.

Star Treatment

Later that year, someone from the March of Dimes contacted Mr. Skrilow and me to ask us to appear on CBS 2 News to talk about how we got involved. I was so nervous on TV. The director positioned us on the set. He gave me directions like be sure to look at the host when I was talking rather than at the camera. I enjoyed it a lot.

The next day Mr. Skrilow and I participated in the annual March for Babies Walk in Manhattan. The walk is meant to raise awareness about the charity. We both felt honored. We brought along all of our club members and we marched with pride. The three-and-a-half mile march was from Central Park to Union Square.

It was fun because we all were listening to music and taking pictures of each other, and laughing the whole time. Afterward we all went to a pizza party at Mr. Skrilow’s brother’s house.

Now that I’m in college I hope to be able to be an activist for the March of Dimes on campus. I’ve realized that all my life I’ve been the one needing support and help. I never thought that while being young, I could be the one who could also help when someone needs it. All of my experiences fundraising showed me that no matter how young I am, I can be a helping hand.

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(NYC-2015-11-09)

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