Portsmouth Abbey School Walk For Cancer 2022

On Sunday, May 15, Portsmouth Abbey School held its annual Walk For Cancer on campus. This spring term, six students -- Alexis ’23, Aidan’23, Hannah ’23, Ona ’23 and Dami ’23 -- undertook the planning and execution of the event as their independent project for community service. Community service interns are allowed of their own initiative to develop an independent project, either as individuals or as a group. Under the guidance of Dr. Marc Lavallee, chair of the Theology Department and director of Community Service, along with theology teacher Dr. Blake Billings ’77, the students began planning the Walk for Cancer in late April. Alexis ’23 explained, “At the end of Winter Term when we began to arrange our independent projects for Spring Term community service, I suggested to a group of my friends that we should plan the Walk for Cancer, especially since one of my closest friends lost her father to cancer last year. Seeing how enthusiastic we all were to organize this made me sure that this was the right decision.”

The annual Walk at the Abbey has been ongoing for over 20 years since Keith Hoffmann ’05 initiated the event to honor his father who had succumbed to cancer. Dami ’23 said of the planning process, “I wanted to help organize this because I knew it was an event that my friends and I all cared deeply for. We had a vision and we put so much effort to have a great execution. Of course, I am planning to do this again next year! I had a blast encouraging people to donate and share us stories with the school.”

To kick off this year’s drive, members of the planning committee sold cancer-awareness bracelets at various locations -- at House meetings, at the Head Boy/Head Girl debate and during breakfast and assembly. The bracelets were worn throughout the dress-down day on Friday, May 13, to show proof of donation. In addition, a "No One Fights Alone" poster was designed and placed in the administration building for students, faculty and staff to write tributes or positive messages to show support. “My grandmother died of thyroid cancer last summer. It was such a tough time for my family as we couldn't be here with her due to COVID-19,” Alexis ’23 recalls. That’s why I wear the ‘No One Fights Alone’ bracelet -- so that no one feels as though they are alone in their battle.”

The route for the Walk this year began and ended at the gazebo on the Manor House lawn. Those who attended the Walk were eligible to win one of two $100-gift cards to Mission restaurant in Newport, donated by the Hoffmann family.  Both Keith ’05 and his mother, Dr. Robin Hoffmann, attended the event. Many student and faculty volunteers and participants showed up to lend their support to the cause, raising over $2,000 for the American Cancer Society.

One student planner, Hannah ’23, commented, “Honestly, it just kind of seemed like the obvious thing to do. The group of people who helped organize this event have all been impacted by cancer. The experience of watching a loved one suffer and having no ability to help is one of the worst feelings in the world. I would like to think that, even in a small way, we're helping someone else to not feel the way we did.” She continued, “My favorite part would probably be the stories that people told me… about their loved ones. Some people cried and others just seemed happy to remember their loved ones. It made me feel like we were no longer strangers. It brought me closer to other people in the community.”

Dami ’23 added, “My favorite part of this event was watching everyone around campus wear one of the customized wristbands. It showed that the whole community really cared for what we were all fighting for; Cancer had affected them either personally or indirectly. I also liked going to each dorm, and students/faculty were more than happy to donate to the cause. Last summer my aunt passed away from cancer of the gallbladder. And it was the first death in my family that I had ever experienced, so doing this was like a way to remember her as something greater than her disease.”

Ona ’23 shared her story as well: “My father passed away from Stage-4 colon cancer in April of last year, and I was looking for a way to show my support and raise awareness for a cause that greatly affects me. I had talked to Dr. Billings earlier and I repeatedly asked him if we were doing a Walk for Cancer this year and how I could help.  I was beyond excited when I found out we had the option to organize it. My favorite part about organizing this event was designing the ‘No One Fights Alone!’ bracelets and giving them out to people who donated because I received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from students and faculty, and it felt surreal to see my idea come to fruition. In all, it was a fun experience and I do hope we can do it again next year!”

Many thanks and congratulations to faculty and students who planned and supported this event. Your hard work and generosity is recognized and appreciated!

View a photo gallery from the event here.