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Sep 5, 2013 9:45 PM by Eric Ross

Teen gets scholarship for cancer work

PEKIN, Ill. (AP) - Caring is in A.J Salmon's nature. It is obvious to his family, friends and community.

The 13-year-old Pekin boy started the "I Hate Cancer Club" that has helped raise roughly $20,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital over the past five years.

He also received a $1,000 Kohl's Cares Scholarship for postsecondary education for his volunteer service.

Amy Orwig is a family friend and nominated A.J. for the Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program. To be considered for a scholarship, the nominee's volunteer actions must be described in detail. It is open to students between the ages of 6-18 who have not yet graduated from high school. Winners were chosen based on the benefits and outcomes of their volunteer service.

Orwig and Salmon learned A.J. had been selected from more than 2,300 store winners as one of 194 regional winners of the scholarship program. "Though I've only been acquainted with A.J. and his family a short while, when I received an email from Kohl's about their scholarship program I knew he was a perfect fit," said Orwig.

"He is a very deserving young man and I pray this will be the first of many blessings he will receive for the hard work he is doing to bring hope to the families of St. Jude, and to help end childhood cancer by raising money for research."

It began simply by listening to the radio. In 2007, the Salmon family was in the car listening to 104.9 FM during the St. Jude Radio-thon. A.J. had been saving his money to purchase a Nintendo Wii. Instead of buying something for himself, he donated his $74 to St. Jude.

While the Salmon family has been fortunate to have healthy children, they know how much good St. Jude's does for others. Family friend Lexi Wendel lost her battle with cancer in 2004 at age 7. "Lexi's mom is an amazing person," said Corrie Salmon, A.J.'s mother. "Even though she didn't get the outcome she was hoping for, she was thankful for St. Jude."

At first, A.J. just went to St. Joseph's School in Pekin to ask for help raising money. They helped raise approximately $400. It was encouraging to A.J. to see how much more money he helped raise over the course of one year, going from $74 by himself to $400 with the help of one school. It sparked his determination to expand his efforts. A.J. has traveled to schools in Pekin, Tremont, Eureka and St. Patrick Catholic School in Washington and encouraged students and staff to participate. "You don't have to donate $20 or more," he said. "My goal is for each person to donate $1. Even a little bit helps. If every kid in Pekin donates a dollar, it can do a lot of good for kids with cancer. It's like snowflakes. One snowflake can fall and melt but if there's a lot of snowflakes, you can make snowballs, a snowman or have a snow day." All together 10 schools participated in raising funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Last year alone, they raised over $9,500.

A.J. sold T-shirts with the "I Hate Cancer" logo on the front. The shirts were purple, Wendel's favorite color. Corrie said, "It's a horrible disease with a well-named club."

He has seen people wear them in the community. "It's awesome to see people out and about wearing their T-shirts," A.J. said.

Schools got creative in how they raised money. A.J. said one school had a "Put a Lid on Cancer" fundraiser and if students or staff donated money they were allowed to wear a hat to school. Another creative school had a "Put Cancer to Sleep" fundraiser. Those who donated were allowed to wear pajamas to school on a designated day. Other schools had uniform free days and bake sales. A.J. said they were all great ways to help a good cause.

The community has been supportive. Some folks made a donation just by reading about his club in the newspaper or seeing it on Facebook. Missy Ranney and Stephanie Tanner are friends of Corrie's who contacted her saying they would like to help by having a vendor fair. The two organized a fair at Mashie's Pub & Eatery in Pekin held one evening and raised more than $800. A.J.'s hockey team, the Peoria Junior Rivermen, donated $1,000 last year.

A.J.'s fundraising efforts begin in November by sending a letter to area schools. He said he starts that early so he can collect the money and donate it in February during the St. Jude Radio-thon. "They let me talk on the radio and explain what I do and then I announce the total I collected," A.J. said. "I like being on the radio."

With almost 1,000 "likes" on Facebook, Salmon said he often meets people who are interested in helping. He met the girls in Morton who put on the "Backyard Talent Show" to raise money for St. Jude and attended their event. He purchased lemonade at Kroger for the "Lemonade Raid" to raise money for the Pekin to Peoria St. Jude Runners. Then, to cheer on the runners, the Salmon family met up with friends to hose off the runners with squirt guns as they ran down South Fifth Street in Pekin on Aug. 3.

"It was fun! The goal was to 'shower' them with love and support. We tried not to get their shoes though!" said Corrie.

His efforts have made an impact. While his parents knew he had been nominated because Orwig contacted them for permission, A.J. had no idea. Corrie said, "It was a total surprise to A.J. I think the only thing Amy wanted to know was his birthday. I went online and saw the nomination form and it was pretty extensive."

"I've felt a little guilty," said A.J. "Anybody could do this. Everyone who has helped has done amazing things." The $1,000 scholarship will be used for college. Although he has a while before deciding, A.J. knows he wants to go to college after high school. His goal for this year's fundraising efforts is to hit the $10,000 mark.

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