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Outpouring of Support for Popular Teacher Gets La Cueva Recognized

Students and staff who supported math teacher Dawn Witiuk during her repeat battle with breast cancer will be recognized for Outstanding Youth Collaboration in Philanthropy.

October 8, 2013

Dawn Witiuk Philanthropy Award When La Cueva math teacher Dawn Witiuk learned in January that the breast cancer she had defeated just a few years earlier had returned, she was distraught over the thought of having to go through this battle yet again.

Fortunately, she wouldn’t have to go it alone.

The popular teacher decided to speak frankly about her disease with students and colleagues, many of whom had supported her through the first round of chemotherapy and treatment.

“Without hesitation, my students inquired about what they could do to help me,” Witiuk said.

The outpouring of support was overwhelming, and has resulted in the recognition of La Cueva students and counselor Debra Chandler for Outstanding Youth Collaboration in Philanthropy by the New Mexico chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. They will be honored as part of National Philanthropy Day at a luncheon on Nov. 12.

The students showed their support in a variety of ways, from organizing a “Shave Your Head for Mrs. Witiuk” event to sending daily well-wishing texts to creating and selling t-shirts that read “Probability of Recovery ≥ 100%, Dawn Strong.”

“A lot of students had watched Dawn go through chemo before. They already had that connection with her. To have it happen again, you could just feel the pain spread across campus. It was devastating and they just wanted to be there for her to get her through it,” said Chandler, who helped students coordinate the t-shirt sales.

More than 150 shirts were sold, even to students who hadn’t had Witiuk as a teacher, and a check for $1,500 was presented to her to help with medical expenses. In the same spirit of philanthropy that her students and colleagues had shown, Witiuk donated a portion of the money, in the name of La Cueva High School, to the UNM Cancer Foundation.

“Their fundraising efforts go beyond their effect on me,” Witiuk said. “The t-shirts are a walking advertisement for the influence and impact students have when they aspire to help just one other person.”

Witiuk nominated her students and colleagues for the philanthropy award, saying they saw a need and responded, disregarding the time and effort involved.

Sara Newman of the New Mexico chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals said judges were “blown away” by the relationship the La Cueva students have with their teacher.

“This was a grassroots effort. Students saw something they felt passionate about and organized ways to help her, to show her she wasn’t alone,” Newman said.

The award comes with a $250 prize that can be donated to a nonprofit of the winner’s choice. Chandler said La Cueva will donate the money to Cleaning for a Reason, an organization that that provides cleaning services for individuals battling breast cancer.

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