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Youth power: Native American kids making a difference for ACS

A Dakota proverb says, “We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.” American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

In today’s society, we often think of adults as those who make a difference, but youth also have the power to volunteer and make a difference in this world – and to be known forever by the tracks they leave.

And every day, youth are making a difference – a big difference, especially for the American Cancer Society.

Last year, a group of fourth and fifth-grade students from the Todd County Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota participated in a society-sponsored “mini-relay,” – an offset of the American Cancer Society’s signature Relay For Life event. The Mini-Relay For Life was organized by the National Honor Society at Todd County High School and Faculty Advisor Rhonda Cherry.

Nearly 400 students were involved in the event, which raised funds to go toward cancer research and helped educate students about the importance of diet and exercise as part of a cancer-free lifestyle.

A mini-relay is a youth-focused version of a community American Cancer Society Relay For Life, and incorporates fundraising and wellness education. The mini-relay usually takes place in a school.

“The mini-relay really helps students understand what it means to live a healthy lifestyle, and allows them to become aware of choices they can make to stay healthy and prevent cancer,” said Bobbi Clark, who coordinates the community American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Todd County, called “Rockin Relay on the Rez.”

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Todd County’s mini-relay accounted for one of the 51 mini-relays that took place nationwide for the American Cancer Society last year. Overall, through both mini-relays and Relay For Life programs, youth accounted for 275,000 participants on 25,000 teams nationwide, and together raised more than $20 million for cancer research.

Clark said the mini-relay has become so popular in Todd County that younger students can’t wait for their chance to participate.

“The high school students gain valuable experience in developing their leadership skills through organizing the mini-relay, and the younger students look up to them and see how everyone working together can make a difference,” said Roberta Cahill, Yankton Sioux member and American Cancer Society staff in Pierre, S.D. “The American Cancer Society likes to see people get healthy and stay healthy so they can reduce their risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.”

The funds raised by the children go toward cancer research, and are an investment in their future to see a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

There are many opportunities for youth to become involved in the American Cancer Society including: Colleges Against Cancer and High Schools Against Cancer – which form chapters at schools to promote cancer awareness through events like Relay For Life and activities year-round. To find out more about volunteering, contact the American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 or visit

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The American Cancer Society would like to know the efforts you are doing to fight cancer in your community. If you’re under 21 and would like your story featured in an upcoming column, write to, and answer the following question: “How are you fighting cancer in your community for the American Cancer Society?” We’d love to hear from you.