Sarah Richards, a 17-year-old junior at St. Francis DeSales High School, is starting a tradition she expects her two younger sisters to carry on.

Sarah Richards, a 17-year-old junior at St. Francis DeSales High School, is starting a tradition she expects her two younger sisters to carry on.

The beneficiaries of their efforts will be children facing dire health problems and their families.

It's all because, Sarah said last week, when she was in the sixth grade, her older brother, Ian, was diagnosed with cancer. They are children of Karen and Roger Richards of Westerville.

It was a scary time for the family, Sarah recalled.

"Before we knew what was going on, we realized he kept getting more and more sick, and I knew if they didn't find out what was happening soon, we could lose my brother," she said.

Ian recovered from his brain tumor, and a couple of weeks ago, celebrated seven years of being cancer-free.

But back when he was still battling the disease, the Make-a-Wish Foundation funded a trip for the entire Richards family, all eight of them, to Nassau, Bahamas.

"We always talked about how one day we wanted to go," Sarah said, "and so my brother said that's what we ought to do."

"It was just an amazing, amazing experience for us and especially my son," Karen Richards said. "As a family, we just made a promise after that to pay it forward. We've been involved ever since."

Grateful to the nonprofit organization that "grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy," according to the website, Sarah got involved with Make-a-Wish and another organization that helps children with cancer when she was in the seventh and eighth grades. She also held fundraising pool parties.

The headquarters of the Make-a-Wish chapter for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana is in northwest Columbus. Sarah and her mother, Karen Richards, were scheduled to visit the Farmers Drive office last week.

During her sophomore year in high school, Sarah said she decided to ramp up her efforts on behalf of the foundation even more.

"That's when I got the school involved," she said.

"The great thing is that the school just absolutely rallied behind this effort," Karen Richards said.

This year, still a girl with a mission, Sarah sold Make-a-Wish stars and bracelets to other DeSales High students and personnel, and conducted a fundraiser at a Stallions football game that alone brought in $1,000.

Although the contest was against arch-rival Bishop Watterson, Sarah's mom said students and supporters of the other team also made donations.

In all, Sarah said, she's been able to present around $2,400 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, with the help of matching donations from some businesses.

"Sarah is just one of those kids who has such a kind heart, and I have always encouraged my children you have to give back, especially when it involves kids dealing with life-and-death situations," Karen Richards said. "We've been there, and I think she has realized, and all my kids have realized through this, you never know what can happen.

"It's a huge part of our family and I hope they realize how there's always someone worse off than you and you can always do something to help another person."

Sarah said she plans to continue her fundraising through her senior year at DeSales.

She hopes to go into the medical field or possibly psychology, working with children "going through hard times." She is considering attending Ohio State University but also might want to attend college in California.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation will continue to get back from having sent the Richards family on Ian's dream vacation.

Sarah's sister, Emma, a freshman at DeSales, will take on the fundraising mantle, to be followed by Leah, now a seventh-grader at St. Paul School in Westerville, Karen Richards said.