Cathy Draper is an adjunct faculty member in the dental hygiene program of Foothill College, as well as the student advisor for the school’s American Dental Hygiene Association chapter. Concerned about more than just her students’ academic development, Cathy decided she should find a good way for her students to give back to their Los Altos Hills, California community. When she heard oral cancer survivor Eva Grayzel speak to her students last year, she found her cause: increasing awareness of the need for earlier detection of oral cancer. And when she did some research about the disease at the Oral Cancer Foundation’s website, she found her vehicle: she would organize an oral cancer walk.

And that is exactly what she did. On Saturday, April 14, just under 100 people gathered for a 5K walk around the Foothill College track. One of those walkers was Judy Miner, the college’s president, who set a very visible example for both her student body and her faculty.

What makes this turnout particularly impressive is the fact that Foothill College—a 2-year community college—is a commuter school with no on-campus residents. This meant that students participating in the walk needed to drive from their homes to the campus, which is something they don’t normally do on a weekend. What’s more, there are only 48 students in the school’s hygiene program: 24 first-year students and 24 second-year students.

While the numbers might not have been in Cathy’s favor, the passion of her students certainly was. Most of the administrative work required to organize the walk was handled by first-year students,

Walkers were given a raffle ticket for each lap around the track. Raffle prizes included items like electric toothbrushes and gift cards to local establishments. The mother of one student really got into the act, providing massages to anyone willing to make a donation. Other donations were made prior to the event by several local dentists, one of whom also participated in the walk.

When all was said and done, over $5,000 was raised for the Oral Cancer Foundation.

As Cathy said, “This was a great way to not only increase awareness of oral cancer, but to have our students engage in a cause that is outside of themselves.” And Cathy plans to make the walk an annual event. “We learned a lot this time around,” she said, “and next year’s second-year students will all have the benefit of having gone through the exercise this year.”

One thing Cathy is already planning to do differently next year is to have the local dental society provide oral cancer screenings. And see has already secured the commitment of the local newspaper, which did a story following the event this year, to do a pre-event story next year in order to attract even more walkers and donations.

Clearly, Cathy Draper is helping her students to learn not only about dental hygiene, but about how to give back. It’s hard to imagine a more well-rounded college education than that. that Kim and Dr. Pelletier are committed to organizing another walk/run next year? “Next year?” asked Kim with a tone of mock indignation. “Every year!”

Awareness of oral cancer might be surprisingly low in South Carolina’s state capitol, but if Dr. Mark Pelletier, Kim Young and other staff members at Premier Aesthetic Dentistry have their way, the number of residents unaware of this disease will soon be headed south.

Literally and figuratively, this group wasn’t going to let a thunderstorm rain on its parade. And they also weren’t about to let the fact that they’re from a small town keep them from raising funds that you’d expect from a big city.