Westerville Central High School senior Briana McNeal and her 11-member Team Warhawk Life Savers are campaigning for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through March 8.

The fundraising campaign helps support the society and its longstanding efforts to cure blood cancer and improve the lives of patients, according to McNeal.

"Our mission is to not only raise the most money but also to bring attention to blood cancers like leukemia, which is the most common form of cancer in children and teens," she said.

McNeal is in the running for Student of the Year in Central Ohio, a program in which students foster professional skills such as entrepreneurship, marketing and project management while raising funds for the society.

Katie Peck, LLS Students of the Year campaign specialist, said there are 12 candidate teams with 19 students representing nine high schools in central Ohio including Upper Arlington, Dublin Coffman, Bexley, New Albany, Westerville Central, Bishop Hartley, Worthington Kilbourne, Pickerington Central and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Peck said participating students hope to raise $200,000 from their fundraising campaigns that began Jan. 17.

Nationally, last year Students of the Year participants raised $13.5 million, she said.

Peck said student leaders raise funds in honor of children who are blood-cancer survivors.

"The title Student(s) of the Year is awarded to the candidate or co-candidate team in each (campaign) that raises the most funds during the seven-week competition," she said. "Students recruit a team, set a fundraising goal and create a fundraising plan utilizing great resources from LLS."

One of the unique aspects is that each team only knows how much it has raised throughout the competition when the totals are announced at the grand finale, Peck said.

Students can compete as an individual or in groups of two or three as they lead multigenerational fundraising teams.

McNeal is running for Student of the Year as an individual. Her team, the Warhawk Life Savers, also includes classmates Christian Bryson, Mckenzie Bray and Bella Glaser.

"Westerville City Schools has also been an incredible help in allowing me to sell team T-shirts at Westerville Central and advertising my efforts," she said.

McNeal said she signed up with her mother, Lori McNeal, in April 2018 to volunteer at the LLS Students of the Year Gala.

"I had never heard of the program before, and we were just there to help set up, run and tear down the event," she said. "While I was there, I got the opportunity to talk to some of the organizers and staff at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Columbus, as well as some of the high school students who were running for 2018 Student of the Year."

They introduced McNeal to the program, and a fellow volunteer ended up being a coworker of her mother's as well as a former Woman of the Year Candidate.

"Her name is Diana McCreery, and my mother and I volunteered again with her in June of 2018 at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Man and Woman of the Year Gala at the Ohio State University," she said. "After getting to know Diana, she nominated me to be a candidate for the 2019 Students of the Year program in the Central Ohio chapter."

Peck said central Ohio students are raising funds in honor of a 3-year-old New Albany resident, Behren Britton, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

McNeal said a gala will be held to celebrate everyone's efforts and announce the team that raised the most money for the cause. It is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 8 at the Bluestone, 583 E. Broad St.

The student or group that headed that team will be named Student(s) of the Year, she said.

Anyone who wants to support McNeal's campaign can do so by visiting https://events.lls.org/coh/centralohioSOY2019/bmcneal.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla