Anna Grace Buchanan and Cara Lee Crawford have a lot in common. They both have double names; they are 16-year-old juniors at Jackson Prep; both are involved in the Global Leadership Institute (GLI) at school and both have been touched by cancer, though one more profoundly than the other.
On March 10 of this year, Cara Lee learned, while she and her family were at the beach for spring break, that her grandfather, Bob Crawford, an attorney in Jackson, had liver cancer. He is currently seeking treatment at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas.
On Monday, April 16, Anna Grace learned that her father, Doug Buchanan, a dentist with a practice in Brandon, had been diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancers. Tragically, Dr. Buchanan passed away only two months after his diagnosis.
How do two teen-age girls, friends since they were 12-years-old, cope with dear ones battling potentially deadly diseases? They call on their internal and external resources, and they fight back.
Through the GLI program, juniors must take on a Make a Difference (MAD) project. In May, after both diagnoses, but prior to Dr. Buchanan’s death, Cara Lee had a conversation with her mother, Renae, about ideas for the girls’ MAD project, and her mother suggested they create a fundraiser for cancer research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
According to Dr. Cindy Townsend, director of GLI, both girls have poured themselves into their project. “These are amazing girls. They have done everything themselves and are putting forth an incredible effort.”
Their project, Pounding the Pavement for a Cure, a 5K race, will be held on Saturday, September 15, at Liberty Park, next to the Flowood YMCA.
The race begins at 7:30 a.m., but participants are asked to be at the park, at 694 Liberty Rd., in Flowood, by 6:45 a.m. Pre-event on-line registration (www.ppc5k.com) is $21, and the fee on the day of the race is $25.
The girls have raised several thousand dollars to pay for expenses associated with the race, and they have relied on their wide net of their own, and their families’, connections. The girls are becoming networking experts. “Every sponsor we have gotten is because we have known them,” says Cara Lee.
For instance, Cara Lee’s grandmother’s neighbor’s son-in-law works for Brown Bottling Co., which will donate water for the event. A classmate has created a design for t-shirts, and a friend who attends Lakeside Presbyterian Church with Anna Grace’s family has arranged for the t-shirts to be printed.
The Chamber of Commerce of Flowood is donating space on a billboard to promote the race. Tonya Wicks of the Chamber says, “This is a cause that is near and dear to our hearts, on both personal and community levels.”
About the challenges of pulling off a successful 5K race, Anna Grace says, “We thought this would be so easy, but it hasn’t been. There have been so many details to think about and so many decisions to make.”
“This is the great thing about the Leadership Institute,” says Dr. Townsend. “The students learn about decision-making, planning and taking care of the details. We believe that everyone is a leader. We take these students as they are; we highlight their gifts, and we work through the weaknesses.”
In addition to the event itself, the girls must turn in a notebook outlining all the steps they took in planning, and it must contain all the materials and information they have gathered and used during the race-planning process. They will also have an exit interview with Dr. Townsend.
Though she mourns the loss of her recently departed father, Anna Grace says, “He knew this cause would be my MAD project.” When asked how she, in the midst of her grief, had the wherewithal to plan a race, she says, “My father taught us always to rely on God during good and bad times, and he never would have wanted us not to go on with our lives.”
Building for the future
For years, the Jackson Free Clinic has been able to use only half the space in the building it owns near the intersection of Fortification and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. But with a growing patient base and a need for additional healthcare services, the clinic had to expand.
Earlier this year, student leaders kicked off a capital campaign to renovate the rest of the building, effectively doubling the clinic’s usable space to more than 5,000 square feet. The estimated cost of the project is about $300,000.
The plans are ambitious. In addition to adding occupational therapy, physical therapy, and dental services, the expansion will double the number of exam rooms, upgrade the lab facilities, add a community conference room and classroom, and make the facility handicapped accessible.
Jackie Bailey, President and COO of the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, remembers first hearing about the fundraising efforts on behalf of the Jackson Free Clinic. “The students wanted to keep the capital campaign funds separate from the JFC operating funds. They’d heard about the Community Foundation’s work with other non-profits, so they approached us to set up a fund.”
Bailey was very impressed with the energy and passion the medical students brought to the task. Not to mention their time-management skills. “Here are these busy graduate students, juggling not only their medical studies, but also running a non-profit and leading a major capital campaign all at the same time.”
Jackson Free Clinic board members Bobby Tullos, Brittain Heindl, and Clark Walker gave extensive interviews promoting the clinic and the capital campaign, while others worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
Architects Richard McNeel and Melissa Edwards of JBHM Architects donated their services to design and plan the renovations. Contractor Ray Floyd of Fountain Construction organized the subcontractors and developed the plan for the construction.
The renovated building will be medical grade and meet all federal and state requirements for a health-care facility. Thanks to the support of the local community, as well as major gifts from the Schools of Medicine and Health Related Professions at UMMC and Health Management Associates, Inc., the campaign raised the $300,000 needed for construction, by this past May.
But the Jackson Free Clinic board hasn’t stopped there. Recognizing there will always be a need to cover costs for equipment, supplies and overhead, they have set up an endowed second fund at the Community Foundation.
Giving back and then some
Sills, now a fourth-year medical student, grew up in Vicksburg and graduated from Mississippi State with a degree in microbiology. He started volunteering at the Jackson Free Clinic as a first year student and now serves as the clinic’s director.
From the beginning, he says he found it refreshing to put the books away for several hours on a Saturday and learn to practice medicine in a very practical way. For him, working with upper-level medical students gave him a sense of what it’s like to take care of patients in a busy clinic setting.
On a typical Saturday, students begin arriving at the clinic around 11:30 a.m. and are divided into teams of at least one upper-level student and several lower-level students. Each team begins seeing patients at noon. All patient cases are presented to a board-licensed physician, who signs off on any treatment prescribed.
It’s a terrific way to give students patient-care experience, yet provide a much-needed service. Once the clinic expansion is complete, occupational therapy and physical therapy students will also be able to volunteer and get hands-on experience. Eventually, the Jackson Free Clinic board hopes to add pharmacy and dentistry students to the mix.
Clearly, the student volunteers at Jackson Free Clinic are deeply committed and certainly multi-talented.
As Sills sums it up, “I enjoyed the opportunity to have such an impact in my patients’ lives. I found that it was the perfect way to blend public service with educating myself for my future career.”