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‘CRP Cancer Crusaders’ rally around child JULIE GORHAM / CHRONICLE

Crystal River Primary School students last week dashed for a little boy battling leukemia during the second annual Dash for Tash.

While the Thursday evening event differed from last year, the mission stayed the same: to raise money for Tash Sullivan, who is fighting Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We love this little boy even though we’ve never met him,” said second- grade teacher Carolyn Clark. “He is the grandchild of a longtime school employee, Beth Sullivan, who retired when she heard the news of his diagnosis two years ago.”

This was this second year Clark and third-grade teacher Rachel Miller have rallied students to run, play and celebrate on Tash’s birthday, Nov. 2. He turned 2 on Thursday. Organizers and participants are dubbed The Crystal River Primary Cancer Crusaders.

“Last year, we collected nearly $1,000 to help his family, and want to beat that every year,” Clark said. “This year we had to hold the event after school, but throughout the week students and teachers donated toward our goal, along with everyone who came out to support us tonight.”

To give a little incentive, Clark and Miller created a duck pool and a lollipop pool that gave students chances to win prizes; all they had to do was fish the right ducks with awards on the bottom, or make a nominal donation based on the color of the stick of the lollipop. Each of the colors represented a form of cancer.

“We kept the prices very low — for example, orange, the color for leukemia, makes the lollipop free, while purple is 25 cents or 50 cents for yellow,” Miller said. “Students pull one duck for 50 cents or three for a dollar, but all of our kids are going to win something.”

Kona Ice of Citrus County was there and sold shaved ice, with a portion of proceeds going toward the fund for Tash. Walmart Supercenter of Inverness donated a birthday cake and cupcakes.

Halfway through the event, participants connected with Tash’s parents, Jonathan and Nikole, via FaceTime and sang “Happy Birthday” to Tash, who was in the hospital prepping for a bone marrow transplant scheduled for today.

As Clark spun the phone being used to FaceTime around the group, they smiled and waved while a cherub-faced Tash sweetly said “yum” when he saw the cake.

“He has been in the hospital for nearly his entire life,” Clark said. “It has been tough on his family. They have to live apart; Dad is in South Carolina holding down a job, while his mom stays with him in Tennessee. And they have two small little girls, Sloane who is 4 and Scout who is 3.”

Clark added that every one of the teachers who are part of the Cancer Crusaders have felt the pain from cancer.

“It is something we all share. I lost my brother to brain cancer; Ms. Miller’s parents are both cancer survivors; and today we even have a breast cancer survivor — Jenny Davis’s mom,” Clark said.

Throughout the year, the Crusaders conduct fundraising events that directly support people with cancer through the Citrus Cancer Aid Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

School Principal Donnie Brown knows her staff will always go above and beyond to help.

“If I know these ladies,” Brown said, “if they don’t raise enough they will plan to do something else. I think this epitomizes what Crystal River Primary is all about. We are a community-minded school. This is just one action that we do to give back.”

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