Coming Together to Fight Pediatric Cancer

The Muhlenberg volleyball team worked with an alumnus at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to fundraise as a player’s cousin underwent treatment.

By: Meghan Kita  Friday, December 1, 2017 11:20 AM

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The Muhlenberg volleyball team raised more than $7,000 to fight pediatric cancer this fall. Photo courtesy of Nick Fritz.

Nick Fritz ’15, the coordinator for peer-to-peer fundraising at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), has worked on a range of projects, from a child’s charity lemonade stand all the way up to golf outings that bring in tens of thousands of dollars. But soon after a user launched a campaign called “Rally for Reagan” on CHOP’s fundraising portal this fall, Fritz realized this would be a memorable one.

“I was reaching out to Alexa (Keckler, the head volleyball coach) to get more information about this fundraiser, and when I looked at their page, I saw they were from Muhlenberg,” Fritz says. “I told her I was an alumnus and if there’s anything you need at all, let me know.”

The Muhlenberg volleyball team had planned to raise money to fight breast cancer this October. But, in September, player Tara Register ’20, a business and media & communication major, learned her 3-year-old cousin, Reagan, had Wilms tumor, a type of pediatric cancer that starts in the kidneys. Reagan’s tumor had gone undetected until it had grown to the size of a honeydew melon, causing other complications. As a result, she spent a month and a half in the intensive-care unit at CHOP before moving to its oncology center.

“With Muhlenberg being just a little over an hour from CHOP, I was so happy that I could get to see Reagan several times during her stay in the hospital,” Tara says. “We have a very supportive family that always jumps right in to help each other. Reagan is such a special kid. It was great that I could be there too.

Meanwhile, Tara’s teammates shifted their fundraising focus to pediatric cancer. “Our team just stopped everything they were doing for breast cancer and said, ‘This is where we need to put our attention,’” Keckler says. They ordered shirts and wristbands to sell at their October 14 home matches against Gettysburg and Clarkson and worked with director of athletic communications Mike Falk to craft a program that would share Reagan’s story with fans. And, Fritz and Keckler got in touch.

“A lot of times we’ll send a CHOP banner plus balloons and posters, so people know what they’re raising money for,” Fritz says. “I was actually going back to Allentown that weekend to meet up with my parents, so I said I’d drop by the College with the stuff. I knew Alexa was from Muhlenberg, so I was just trying to go that extra step to help them out.”

By the time October 14 rolled around, Reagan had been out of the ICU for a few days and was able to travel from her home in Ambler, Pa., to Muhlenberg. About 20 of her family members came, too, plus friends of Reagan’s parents and grandparents. “There were a lot of little kids there,” Tara says. “She hadn’t been exposed to other kids running around for a while. It was a big deal for her to get a chance to run around again, and to meet all the volleyball girls.”

Between the efforts that day and the fundraising page that’s still live, the team raised more than $7,000 for the oncology center at CHOP. “I was impressed with Rally for Reagan because they raised a lot of money in a short time,” Fritz says. “When I was first talking to Alexa, the page had been up for two weeks and they’d already raised about $4,000. I was really impressed that such a small group could leverage the Muhlenberg community.”