Student of the Year: Eureka Springs’ Ertel raises $89,000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
By Samantha Jones
Eureka Springs High School junior Grayson Ertel is ending the school year with a major accomplishment.
On May 10, Ertel was named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student of the Year. Ertel set a goal to raise $30,000 for LLS over a five-week period and ended up exceeding it by nearly three times, raising $89,000 for those affected by blood cancers. When she heard the news, Ertel said, she was in disbelief.
“Never, never did I think I would raise that much,” she said. “I thought it would be a reach to meet my goal. I thought it was going to be tough to do that, so when they announced how much I raised the night of the gala, I was astounded. I was in shock.”
She could see how much she raised until the night of the gala, Ertel said, but had no way to know what her silent and live auction items brought in.
“I thought I was going to raise around $50,000 or $60,000,” she said.
In addition to being named Student of the Year, Ertel received recognition for getting a donation from every state and a volunteerism award for everything she did to raise awareness for LLS in Carroll County. Ertel is no stranger to volunteerism, serving as a member of Rotary Interact and Carroll County Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council. She also volunteers for Loaves and Fishes in Berryville and the Medical Supply Network in Tulsa. The reason she does all that, Ertel said, is because she believes in giving back.
“I’m super happy to do it,” Ertel said.
Ertel is one of eight Northwest Arkansas students who took part in the Student of the Year program, a philanthropic leadership development program where students set ambitious fundraising goals to help families affected by blood cancer.
“I feel very honored to raise money for LLS. It’s amazing how many people’s lives will be affected by it,” Ertel said. “It touches close to home.”
Her little cousin Jimi was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3, Ertel said, and he overcame it.
“He’s living a happy and healthy life as an 8-year-old,” she said. “It means a lot to me and anybody that’s been impacted by blood cancer to support this cause.”
LLS representative Amy Germann said she’s excited to work with students like Ertel who have such a personal connection to the society’s mission. Germann described how LLS has grown over the years, saying it started in 2014 and really took off in 2017.
“It’s the fastest growing peer-to-peer fundraiser we have in LLS,” Germann said. “It’s really become one of the critical pillars of how we raise money.”
This is the first year LLS has launched the program in Northwest Arkansas, and Germann said she’s impressed by the students who participated.
“They want to be part of the community. They want places and businesses they’re involved in to give back,” Germann said. “They’re pushing for that, so we started talking to them and tested this out and it’s been very successful.”
LLS works hard to raise money for blood cancer research, Germann said, recently granting $300,000 to the Faulk Foundation for medical research at the University of Arkansas. Germann said LLS is focused on the families affected by blood cancer and financially supports those who need it.
“The money we raise here definitely comes back to this community,” Germann said.
Throughout the fundraising campaign, Ertel said, she learned about time management and how to talk to large groups of people.
“Once I started asking people for donations, I got really comfortable with it,” Ertel said.
Thanks to LLS, Ertel said, she’s become friends with the other students involved in the program.
“We’ve kept in touch ever since the fundraiser started,” Ertel said. “We’re still talking. It’s been fun to meet kids from different schools who have the same heart as I do.”
Ertel encouraged local students to consider raising money for LLS next year. If you are interested in being part of the Student of the Year program, Ertel said, she can nominate you.
“It’s an awesome opportunity. It makes you feel so good to realize how many people are affected by it,” she said, “and how many people you can touch. To say you helped so many people is awesome.”
Ertel thanked everyone in the community who contributed to her campaign.
“Your donation touched more than just me,” she said. “It touched a lot of people’s lives.”