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Pearl Hall Elementary raises over $11,000 for teacher with cancer diagnosis

Pearl Hall Elementary raises over $11,000 for teacher with cancer diagnosis
Posted on 04/20/2020
Pearl Hall Elementary raises over $11,000 for teacher with cancer diagnosis

By: Kadey Heidrich
PISD Communications

On Tuesday, December 10, 2019, Kacey Oinonen -- a kindergarten teacher at Pearl Hall Elementary received a call she will never forget. 

As her fellow kindergarten teachers Carrie McNeil and Sandra Lundy held her hands, Oinonen learned that she had stage 2B grade 3 breast cancer. 

The next day, as Oinonen navigated multiple doctor’s appointments, the Pearl Hall community sprang into action. She received uplifting pictures of teachers and staff clad in yellow, her favorite color. The entire school had decided to wear yellow clothing, along with yellow ribbons, as a symbol of their support. 

“I will never forget that day,” said Oinonen. “It made me feel like I belonged at Pearl Hall.” 

At the next several staff meetings, Principal Allison Tamez held brain-storming sessions on ways to help Oinonen in her time of need. 

“The fact that my principal made time for my school to come up with ideas is outstanding, incredible and amazing,” said Oinonen. 

Oinonen’s fellow kindergarten teachers aided her in completing classroom activities like parent phone calls and grading, while instructional coaches helped her during instruction or when she had a substitute teacher. Custodians made sure that her room was cleaned thoroughly and that every item in her room was sanitized. Administrators checked in with her frequently to see how she was and to make sure she had everything she needed. 

For fundraising, Principal Tamez began hosting “Pink Thursdays” in the months of January and February, during which staff members were able to donate money to wear jeans. Fellow kindergarten teachers, Pre-K teachers and special education teachers, along with paraprofessionals, began making and selling breast cancer awareness t-shirts. 

The largest fundraiser- a surprise to Oinonen, was the BBQ Benefit held in her honor. Prior to the event, Pearl Hall’s teachers advertised the benefit to community members, sought out donations and sold tickets. While her fellow kindergarten teachers McNeil and Lundy were the lead organizers for the event, everyone had a role in organizing the benefit.

All of the items at the event were donated by her friends, family members, co-workers and the community. One family purchased a popcorn machine for the event and donated the proceeds to Oinonen. 

“The benefit had it all: great tasting BBQ, several fun raffle baskets, a dessert table, a popcorn machine and so much more,” said Oinonen. “My grandpa was selling chairs made from buckets and there were performances from my Kindergarten kiddos and teachers.” 

After seeing the crowd of over 200 friendly faces, she became emotional. 

“I instantly started crying seeing all of my co-workers, friends and family there to support. I just sat down in the middle of the pavilion and cried,” said Oinonen. “I was in shock. I felt amazed and knew I was at the right school for sure.” 

After the benefit and other fundraising efforts were complete, Pearl Hall’s staff had helped raise $11,606 for Oinonen and her family. 

“I always knew that South Houston had some great people living in the community, my mom, aunt and uncle went to South Houston High School,” said Oinonen. “But I didn’t realize how loving and supportive it was.”