Lauren Meyer and Kyle Smetzler sent 65 letters to U.S. Rep. Tom Cole's office before his staff pulled the plug on their fax machine.
The Clyde High School seniors were prepared to send more than 400 more on Wednesday afternoon.
Almost every student at Clyde High School wrote a letter to the Oklahoma representative as well as Ohio's two senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican George Voinovich and U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green, urging them to make sure $10 million aimed at pediatric cancer research is part of the Health and Human Services appropriation.
The money would partially fund the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, approved by Congress in 2008. Though the act allows for $30 million in federal funds to go to research for better treatment and ultimately a cure for childhood cancers, it is only symbolic until Congress votes to fund it.
At the urging of Wendy and Warren Brown, a Clyde couple who lost their 11-year-old daughter Alexa to cancer in early August, Latta and Cole jointly amended the House version of the Health and Human Services appropriation.
It shifted $10 million from administrative costs to pediatric cancer research.
And Wednesday, at the same time Clyde High School students flooded his fax machine with letters of support for the funding, Brown asked the Senate to do the same.
"I had the chance to meet with Alexa's family just a few days after their daughter passed away," Brown said, standing at the Senate podium. "You can imagine it was an emotional time for them and for their neighbors and for their friends at church and for their friends throughout Clyde and that part of the state. But even in their state of mourning, Alexa's mom and dad stressed the importance of making sure other families don't have to go through the same ordeal. I think our colleagues couldn't agree more."
Brown said he and Voinovich sent a letter to appropriators urging them to match the $10 million earmarked for childhood cancer research in the House version of the bill.
The students in Clyde-Green Springs School District and Alexa's family hope the letter-writing campaign will let the leaders in Washington D. C. know children and families are counting on them to supply the funding.
The letter-writing project was initiated by teacher Melanie Overmyer.
"After losing Alexa Brown to cancer I came up with the idea after seeing Warren on TV asking people to write letters to Congress," Overmyer said.
She said the response from the students was overwhelming, especially after Alexa's big sister, Amanda Brown, recorded a video about Alexa and the funding campaign. Teachers showed the video to their classes to explain the project.
Wednesday morning, teams of students from Overmyer's journalism class faxed the 500 letters to each politician using machines at the school board office, S & J Travel, Town & Country RV Center Inc., and Dr. Jennifer Hohman and Dr. Mary Bower's office in Fremont.
Meyer and Smetcler said they only sent 65 letters from the doctors' office before Cole's staff pulled the plug on the fax machine. When no more letters would go through, a nurse called Cole's office to ask if it's machine was broken. She said the staff told her "some group from Ohio" was flooding the machine, so they turned it off.
"They are going to be forced to look and them and see why," Meyer said. "Even if they just read the first few."
One of the letters that made it through to Cole's office was from senior Lainey Barnett. She told the representative there is not nearly enough funding going to pediatric cancer research.
"Recently a little girl named Alexa Brown, who was only eleven years old, passed away... To you it may only be a name, but she has touched many people in our community," Barnett wrote. "Knowing that a little girl has died, who lived not but four minutes (my) house, is very scary."
Overmyer said the goal is to get congress to approve the funding, but if nothing else, the letters gave the students a chance to be heard.
"Even if they haven't had someone in their own families, they knew someone," she said. "It's a small town. It's a small demographic."
Warren Brown, who visited the school this week to thank the students for their efforts, said the funding has made good progress but it's not out of the woods yet. He said now the goal is to urge senators on the appropriations committee to follow through with the funding request.
"Maybe we're not going to fax 800 letters to these folks, but these key people are going to get some faxes," he said.
If the Senate Appropriations Committee agrees to include the funding in the bill, the money still has to be approved by the Senate. Then it must survive another round of markups in conference committee as the House and Senate carve out a final bill to send to the president.
Want to help?
Call or write letters to your representatives in support of the pediatric cancer research funding:
WHAT: Julie's Day fundraiser
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Four County Conservation League, 7426 County Road 219, Bellevue
SCHEDULE: 1 p.m. Corn hole tournament, $20 per team; 4-7 p.m. Rigatoni dinner, $5 for adults and $3 for children age 10 and younger; 7 p.m. Texas Hold'em, $20 entry fee; Euchre tournament, $10 entry fee