VNT capstone project to help Riley ‘kids’ - including several classmates

Huntington North High School students Elizabeth Allred (left) and Julia Crist hold collection jars for Riley Children’s Hospital. The fund-raiser is the focus of their Viking New Tech Capstone project, with several money-raising activities leading up to a dance marathon set for April 7.
Huntington North High School students Elizabeth Allred (left) and Julia Crist hold collection jars for Riley Children’s Hospital. The fund-raiser is the focus of their Viking New Tech Capstone project, with several money-raising activities leading up to a dance marathon set for April 7. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Oct. 30, 2017.

Some Huntington North High School students are spearheading a drive to raise funds for a hospital dedicated to curing diseases in children, some of whom are fellow classmates.

Senior Elizabeth Allred and junior Julia Crist, along with four others, are Viking New Tech students who chose Riley Hospital for Children as the focus of their capstone project. Such a project, which is aimed at helping the community on an ongoing basis, is a requirement for students who want to rise above the rest, explains VNT teacher and project mentor Michele Santa.

“If a student wants to graduate with Viking New Tech Honors, one of their requirements is for them to do a capstone project,” she says.

“It can be anything that they want it to be. There has to be some sort of research component with it and there has to be some sort of community component with it. They have to actually see it to its fruition, and hopefully it will be something that will continue year after year after year.”

During their research, Allred, the president of the group, and Crist, the vice president, learned about one of Riley Hospital’s most notable “kids,” Ryan White, a 13-year-old from Kokomo who was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December 1984. White died in April 1990 from the disease, one month before his high school graduation. White, a hemophiliac, spent much of his time as a patient of Riley Hospital.

Allred and Crist say some students now attending HNHS are also Riley Kids, including Conner West, who is battling leukemia. Cade Abbett, a former Viking New Tech student who died in 2014, was also a patient at Riley Hospital.

At the outset of the project, to get the word out, the group held a school-wide convocation, where they presented their idea with the help of a representative and mentor from Ball State University. The theme of the project is “Superheroes.” Both teachers and students got on board, excited about the Riley fund-raiser and upcoming dance marathon. Thirty-five students joined the group to help raise the money, some of them Riley Kids themselves or have family members treated at the hospital.

Already the Riley Team – as they’ve dubbed themselves – has raised nearly $500 toward their goal of $2,000. They have regular meetings to come up with ideas and plan more activities throughout the school year, as well as collecting donations from fellow students on a daily basis.

Some of the events they have conducted so far include a “Jail Break,” in which several of the high school’s teachers were hauled behind bars – conveniently located in the commons area – during lunchtime, until they were bailed out by students’ donations. It turned out to be a popular idea.

“That’s where we kicked off our jail break fund-raiser. We had the police officer that’s at the school come into the auditorium and said, ‘Where’s Mr. (Josh) Riikonen?’ and Mr. Riikonen was like, ‘I’m not here!’ and he arrested him on the stage, pulled out the handcuffs and read him his rights. That really got the kids engaged,” Crist reports. “We set (bail at) $25, but a lot of the teachers exceeded their $25 goal.”

The group has made video clips of students in support of Riley Hospital, posting them on Twitter and Instagram sites.

Another event, called a “Miracle Minute,” is set to take place during an upcoming varsity basketball game. A one-minute timer on the scoreboard will count down in superhero time how fast the team can collect money from the crowd.

“At the end of the year we’re going to have a big celebration, revealing how much we’ve raised,” Allred said.

The core group, comprised of six VNT students, have already been holding and planning fund-raiser events throughout the year.
“It all leads up to the big celebration at the end, which is called the Dance Marathon,” Crist explains, “so we’ll basically just celebrate what we’ve done throughout the year and also raise money.”

This will be the first year for the Dance Marathon, which is set for April 7 at the high school fieldhouse. How long the “marathon” will run is still up in the air at this early stage.

“They do them in colleges – that’s where they’re mostly popular, and they do them like all night, so it’s a whole 12-hour thing throughout the night,” Crist says.

They will also have games during the marathon, and will invite current Riley Hospital patients – the “Riley Kids” – to attend and join in as well.

“We’re celebrating them and raising money for them,” Crist says. “We want them to see what we’ve done throughout the year.”

Santa says the Riley Team may also take a field trip to the hospital to see what goes on there on behalf of children and how they work to combat the diseases that affect them.

When Allred graduates next spring, she will hand over her gavel to Crist, who will take over the project for the 2018-19 school year to keep it going. Crist will then pick an upcoming underclassman to take it on for the year after that.

In the meantime, the Riley Team hopes to find matching donations from area businesses who support their efforts.

Video clips and updates may be accessed on Instagram at hnhsrileydm and Twitter at @hn_riley_dance. Donations may be made online at donate.rileykids.org/hnhsdm.