The Norman North gymnasium erupted into cheers and blasts of confetti as the signs fell from the students’ hands, revealing the six-figure result of months of community events and fundraising.
The student leaders of SPUD surprised the gym — full of students, administrators and community members — Monday morning with a fundraising total of $206,538.18.
Students Performing Unselfish Deeds, or SPUD, is Norman North’s annual philanthropy event, and benefited seven recipients this year. Norman High's philanthropy event, Tigerpalooza, will start next month, opening Feb. 7 and running till March 6.
Monday's stage full of SPUD leaders was just as surprised by their total as the audience, said SPUD co-chair Ashley Mercer.
“At that point, I don’t think the number mattered — it was just, all the effort that everybody put in was just so inspirational,” said Mercer, who chaired the event with fellow Norman North seniors Sarah Boone and Anna Tweedy.
Student leaders spend months each year planning the philanthropy event, which culminated last week in SPUD Week, a final fundraising push that includes community activities like a fashion show, dodgeball tournament, talent show or lip sync battle. In the months before SPUD Week, organizers held a dog show, a garage sale, a series benefits at local restaurants and a Polar Plunge, among other events, to fundraise.
"It’s been really humbling and really stressful all at the same time, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything — it’s one of the greatest experiences I literally could have ever had,” Tweedy said.
This year’s SPUD organizers also instituted a new service program that got participants volunteering in the community. Organizers reported Monday that students contributed 1,536 volunteer hours through this year’s SPUD.
“I hope that our service impacted not just our community, but outside our community, and that people know SPUD from not just Norman, but Edmond and Yukon and Mustang,” Mercer said.
The money raised this year will be split between three organizations and four individuals, including Aaron Wilson, a Whittier student; Xander Brayfield, who is undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma; Benito Campos, a Whittier Middle School teacher who is teaching through a cancer diagnosis; and Celina Lautzenheiser, the secretary to Norman North principal Kristi Gray who was recently diagnosed and treated for colon cancer.
“I’ve had family members that have had a lot of health issues, and just knowing the financial burden that that creates on families — not only are you worried about your health, but you’re also worried about how you’re going to pay those bills — and to take that off somebody’s plate who’s really just wanting to be with their family…it’s a feeling that’s life-changing,” Gray said.
Other 2020 recipients include Bethesda, a Norman organization that provides counseling services for survivors of childhood sexual abuse; Among Friends, a care and activity center for adults with special needs; and the Cavett Kids Foundation, an Oklahoma City-based organization that offers campus and year-round programming for kids with chronic illnesses. Student organizers reported that more than 1,700 donors contributed to this year’s SPUD total.
“It’s really amazing to think about how much they accomplished,” Gray said. “…From our seat, we know how hard it is to organize things and to raise money, so to do that at the age that they’re at, it’s just amazing…it sends a huge message to the community and our student body as a whole, to see how respectful our students are."
As the lights in the gymnasium came back on after the total reveal, and the students on stage hugged and celebrated, Benito Campos sat on the front row of the audience, gently wiping his eyes. Campos taught many of the 2020 SPUD leaders when they were at Whittier, and was now watching the students he had invested in work to give back to him.
Campos, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, said someone else nominated him to be a SPUD recipient. It’s been “hard to get used to” the attention and generosity that SPUD Week has brought to him, he said.
“I can’t get used to this — when the amount of money raised was shown, I told myself ‘don’t lose it, don’t lose it,’ but it’s impossible not to lose it,” Campos said. “It’s incredible — it touches your heart, it touches your soul…human beings, we continue taking care of each other — no matter what, we take care of each other.”
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