Student’s spirits raised with benefit

Brianne Fleming, Copy Editor

Under the impression she was walking into Five Guys burger joint Oct. 24 at the Richland Town Centre to meet friends for dinner, Pitt-Johnstown student Noelle Wonavich received the shocking news that a line of people were there to support her struggle.

“I was completely in shock when I found out the fundraiser was all for me,” Wonavich said.

UPJ organizers were members of Dance Ensemble and three Greek organizations – Alpha Kappa Psi, Alpha Gamma Delta and Delta Chi.

A total of 15 percent of each purchase made by students or the general public from 5 to 8 p.m. that evening was donated to Wonavich, who is currently battling cancer.

Over 175 people attended the fundraiser, and $300 in cash donations was raised. Altogether, the fundraiser brought in $400 to $600.

Alpha Kappa Psi President Ashley Steighner was responsible for keeping the event in order, and also worked to keep it a surprise for her best friend.

“We’re trying to help out with her medical bills,” Steighner said, adding that she believes someone would make an effort to help her if she was fighting a similar battle.

“I have a big heart for all my friends and family,” she said. “Helping others in need is more important than ourselves.”

Wonavich is a Pitt-Johnstown junior majoring in computer science. She is also a bartender at the new Quaker Steak and Lube.

“I couldn’t help but to get choked up every time one of my close friends or a big group of people walked through the door and gave me a smile,” Wonavich said.

Dance Ensemble member Angie Boratko donated a $250 personal check as soon as she entered Five Guys.

“I wanted to help her out,” Boratko said. “She’s close friends with some of my close friends.”

Boratko said, ever since her brother died four years ago, she has had the desire to help those who may be suffering.

Dance Ensemble members and friends crowded around Wonavich when she was presented with another surprise: a white cake, decorated with a blue cancer ribbon and the words “Stay Strong Noelle.”

Five Guys Shift Manager Chelsea Sellers said the employees enjoy doing the fundraisers as often as they do because they can benefit any kind of organization.

“This fundraiser in particular touches all of us here,” Sellers said, “because we all know someone with cancer.”

According to the American Cancer Society, 78,340 new cases have been diagnosed so far this year in Pennsylvania. An estimated 1,638,910 diagnoses are expected in the U.S. by the end of 2012.

Alpha Kappa Psi member Megan Eckenrode said she didn’t think twice about attending the fundraiser for Wonavich.

“A family friend was recently diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “I wanted to come and show support.”

Five Guys Manager Sandy Devine said about six fundraisers a month are held at the restaurant.

Devine said fundraisers have been held for baseball teams, Boy Scout troops and the Humane Society. Five Guys has helped donate to Richland football, BMX racing and other cancer patients.

The highest amount of money raised was around $550 for a Johnstown soup kitchen two years ago, to help pay for its Thanksgiving meals, Devine said.

Devine said reporters will sometimes cover the fundraisers, noting that bands have also played outside of Five Guys during a benefit, aiming to attract guests by playing music.

According to National Institutes of Health, an estimated one in 100 college students in the country is a cancer survivor.

Wonavich said the fundraiser touched her because college students battling cancer can be an overlooked issue.

“I was overwhelmed and feeling grateful for all the people who came and supported me,” she said. “I cannot say, ‘Thank you,’ enough to everyone who came to Five Guys that night.”

Wonavich said the fundraiser meant more than just the money she received.

“This helps me and my family more than you can imagine,” Wonavich said. “But, even more than the money, my spirits are lifted knowing I have an entire campus behind me in my fight.”