Forest Hills Central fundraisers seek $100,000 for cancer research before graduation

Friday’s basketball games to help high school classmates keep pledge made as 8th graders

Grand Rapids, MI. (Jan. 24, 2013) – This Friday’s Forest Hills Central boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball games against Caledonia support vital, life-saving cancer research at Van Andel Institute (VAI). They also contribute to a pledge made three years ago by a small group of 8th graders: to raise $100,000 for cancer research before graduating high school in 2014.

Inspired by a meeting with VAI Founding Research Director Dr. George Vande Woude, classmates Bella Fiorenzo, Mariah Otolski and Sydney Vinton agreed they wanted to make a major impact on the research of the Grand Rapids-based biomedical research institute, and on the patients who benefit from that work.

“We didn’t know much about the Institute, but after meeting Dr. Vande Woude, we went to lunch, and when we were through, we had decided to raise $100,000 before we graduated high school,” Vinton said.

In April 2010, the group organized their first fundraising event: a cancer awareness track meet at Forest Hills Central Middle School, raising just over $5,000 for cancer research at VAI.

“That was a huge accomplishment for a group of middle school organizers,” Otolski said. “But more important was the incredible passion generated by the event and the overwhelming support from the entire Forrest Hills Central community.”

That widespread support survived the group’s graduation from middle school and followed them into high school where, as students of Forest Hills Central High School, they are hosting their fourth annual Purple Community event to benefit VAI, Friday, January 25 at 6:00 p.m..  In 9th grade, the core organizing group also welcomed another member, Allie Wittenbach.

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer in October of my freshman year and that was tough to go through, but the whole community came together,” Wittenbach said. “My brother was a senior on the basketball team and he surprised my mother by running up into the stands and presenting her with a ball signed by the whole team.”

This Friday’s event will be dedicated to another cancer patient – 19-month old Abby Greer, the daughter of Forest Hills School District teacher Brandon Greer, who was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of brain cancer.

“Organizing these events to raise money for cancer research is something that’s so fulfilling,” Wittenbach said. “We learn something about ourselves and about the generosity of others.”

“Since 100% of the proceeds from this event will fund cancer research at VAI, you have the potential to impact hundreds of people throughout our community,” Fiorenzo said.

Thus far the Forest Hills Central Purple Community Club has raised more than $36,000 to support cancer research at VAI. Attendance and financial support through sponsorships, activities and purple items will help the club toward its goal.

The Friday, January 25 event tips off at the Forest Hills Central Gymnasium at 6:00 p.m. with a boys’ varsity basketball game followed by a girls’ varsity game. Both teams will play rivals Caledonia High School. For more information about the event and about Van Andel Institute’s Purple Community – Give 100% Hope, please visit the VAI website at


About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent research and educational organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process. Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) is dedicated to strengthening science education and preparing and motivating individuals to pursue science or science-related professions. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), the research arm of VAI, is dedicated to probing the genetic, cellular and molecular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. This is accomplished through the work of over 200 researchers and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe.