Two Pickerington High School Central students have led a charge this school year to raise awareness about those in the community impacted by cancer, and to help collect toys for children in need at the holidays.

Two Pickerington High School Central students have led a charge this school year to raise awareness about those in the community impacted by cancer, and to help collect toys for children in need at the holidays.

After previously participating in school-based programs to support Columbus-based Nellie's Catwalk for Kids, a nonprofit organization which raises funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, PHS Central juniors Brittany Hardyman and Rachel Shively saw opportunities to do more.

So, the two 17-year-olds this school year worked to establish Helping Others Protect Each Other (HOPE) at Central, with Hardyman serving as the club's president and Shively its vice president.

Those efforts have aided in the club's growth to approximately 80 members at Central, and more than 100 at PHS North.

In addition to compelling classmates to think about pediatric cancer and area lives that are affected by it and other forms of cancer, Hardyman and Shively have been instrumental in organizing monthly events to raise money and awareness about cancers that affect children and others.

That was the case this past fall when Central's HOPE raised $1,700 to fight breast cancer through T-shirt and balloon sales leading up to a Central football game.

This month, the two organized a special night for three Pickerington-area children battling cancer when they arranged for them to be introduced at Central's Dec. 7 boys' basketball game against Lancaster.

The children were escorted onto the court by the Tigers' team captains and received gift bags and basketballs signed by members of Central's defending state champion basketball team.

"We still wanted to keep the concept of helping people in the community affected by cancer," Hardyman said. "We're 17 and we don't want to change the world, but if we can affect one person's life, it's worth it."

Shively said it was heartwarming to see the children's faces upon being escorted onto the court.

She added the event inspired one of the honorees, a 12-year-old named Elizabeth, to share her story with the crowd.

"It's really humbling," Shively said. "Just that fact we were able to do this was amazing."

Although the children's introduction was the highlight of the evening, it wasn't the only philanthropic endeavor that took place.

Prior to the game, Central's HOPE Club teamed with the school's Key Club, which each winter holiday season holds a toy drive to benefit local children in need.

Dec. 7, Central fans were encouraged to donate new toys for the drive during the Central-Lancaster game.

That effort was bolstered by support from Lancaster fans, as well, after Shively reached out to school officials in that district and asked they participate in the toy drive to benefit Nellie's Catwalk for Kids and hematology and oncology patients at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

The drive was scheduled to continue at Central through Dec. 21.

In the meantime, HOPE also collected more than $300 in cash donations for a local family who recently had a child die of pediatric cancer.

"That's just like a thing we're called to do," said Shively, who added she became interested in joining the fight against cancer after losing a childhood friend to the disease.

Hardyman, who also has had loved ones affected by cancer, said she's learned a great deal about inner strength and promise through her involvement in HOPE.

"I just want to be helping and caring and loving to those kids," Hardyman said. "I've never been through something like they have."

Through their involvement in HOPE, the two students said they've been inspired to pursue careers in oncology.

And while they plan to continue the battle against cancer through their professions as adults, they are spending much of their scholastic lives fighting on the local front by organizing ongoing awareness and fundraising campaigns.

In addition to local "restaurant nights" they hold regularly to generate financial contributions, they plan next month to collect soda tabs to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House.

They also are organizing a March 16 school dance to raise more money for Children's Hospital.

"Through this, we've become a lot more selfless and humble," Hardyman said. "This year has been great, but we want the future years to be even better."

Shively noted that rarely a day goes by that she and fellow HOPE members aren't hosting or planning an event, and she wants the momentum from the newly-formed club to stretch not only throughout the Pickerington Local School District and Pickerington community, but to other schools throughout the region.

"There's a lot of opportunity," Shively said. "There's a lot of potential for this club to do big things.

"It's a lot of hard work, but it's very, very rewarding."