Alumni Spotlight

Students, staff, community join forces to raise more than $100,000 for prevention and awareness of cancer, suicide

Originally published March 27, 2023 on

Written by Clara-Meretan Kiah

In back-to-back events in March, Panthers came together to raise more than $100,000 to support awareness, research, education and prevention efforts for two of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer and suicide.


Relay for Life

The weekend kicked off with the annual Relay for Life, a national event that came to campus 19 years ago and has since raised millions for the American Cancer Society. The event brought together students and staff with cancer survivors and caregivers in the Ryder Business Loop to bond in the hope that there will one day be a cure for cancer, which is the second-most common cause of death in the United States with 1.9 million new cases and nearly 610,000 deaths expected to occur in 2023.

Hundreds of luminarias – candlelit memorials decorated to honor family and friends lost as well as those still battling – lined the walking path. Opposite the luminarias stood more than 30 themed tables decorated by student clubs, Greek organizations, FIU departments and other relay teams, who were selling snacks or jewelry, hosting chance games for prizes, and more, the proceeds of which were counted toward FIU’s fundraising total.Following tradition, the relay began with a lap for survivors and caregivers. Later in the evening, participants also took a silent lap in remembrance of those lost to cancer. In addition to walking, participants had the opportunity to shave their heads or donate locks of hair in solidarity with chemotherapy patients – overseen by Paul Mitchell stylists, who donated their time to the event. Student performances also took place throughout the evening.Senior Gabriela Tovar walked on the Delta Phi Epsilon team in memory of her grandfather. The sorority participates each year in honor of their late sister, FIU alumna Jennifer Cordero, for whom the organization has established the memorial Resilience Scholarship.“In her last days, [Jennifer] was fighting and being as strong as she could,” Tovar said. “And unfortunately, a lot of our sorority members have family or friends who have been affected by cancer, so this cause means a lot to us.”This year’s Relay for Life has raised more than $40,000 for ACS, including over $4,400 from top team Sigma Kappa and $4,000 from top individual Amanda Alvarez. Donations will continue to be collected through the end of the Spring semester and can be made online by visiting FIU’s Relay for Life page.

Out of the Darkness

The next morning, hundreds of students, staff and community members walked a two-mile path around the Modesto A. Maidique Campus in remembrance of those who have died by suicide and in support of survivors and those currently struggling with mental health.

The annual FIU Out of the Darkness Walk raised more than $68,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – making FIU’s campus walk the leading AFSP campus walk nationwide in 2023 as of March 11.

Out of the Darkness Walk participants gather in GC after completing the two-mile course

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among ages 10-24 and the second-leading cause among ages 25-34.“Given those alarming numbers coincide with most of our student population, this campus walk is more important than ever. Your participation today makes a difference,” said Brenezza DaParre Garcia, associate vice president for Student Health & Wellness, whose team has organized FIU’s campus walk since 2020.Adriana Trespalacios, an FIU alumna and annual giving manager at the FIU Foundation, walked in honor of her father, Angel. Trespalacios encouraged participants to be open to sharing, and to listen and learn from one another’s stories.“Let’s not be afraid to talk about suicide. Take the time to learn all these resources that we have at our fingertips so you can be someone’s angel… I’ll never forget the individual I met through these walks who encouraged me to not be afraid to talk about it,” she said.

Top fundraisers included a team of more than 200 community members from Lourdes Academy, organized by Provost Elizabeth Bejar’s daughter Isabella Chammas and FIU Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Jody Glassman. Team JAG Corps who walked in support of a fellow Lourdes Academy student Lauren Rivero, whose mother Miriam died by suicide; and they raised more than $60,000, including over $5,000 by Lauren, who was also one of the top individual fundraisers for the entire event.“Together, we are making real and lasting change, and it is thanks to you… our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide would not be possible without you,” said Wendy Thompson, Central and Southern Florida special events manager for AFSP.FIU will continue fundraising for AFSP through the end of the Spring semester. Visit FIU’s Out of the Darkness Walk page to donate online.

Looking for more ways to get involved?

Panthers who are interested in supporting future causes on campus should consider joining a team or making a donation to Roarthon, FIU’s Dance Marathon benefiting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which will take place in the Wellness & Recreation Center on Saturday, April 1. Learn more and register online.

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