PORTLAND — Hannah Friedman said her 12-year-old daughter was surprised to learn she had won a $10,000 scholarship to a four-year college to study public service.
“She said, ‘I didn’t know you could win an award for helping people,'” Friedman recalled.
Rachel Friedman, a seventh-grader at Portland’s Lyman Moore Middle School, won an Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Northern New England, one of 200 AFP chapters in the United States, for raising $30,000 over the last three years for the Cancer Community Center in South Portland and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life through an event she founded called Perform for a Cure.
Rachel Friedman was presented with a ceremonious check during a school assembly at the Breakwater School, an independent day school for exploratory learning that she attended from the age of 3 until last year. A formal presentation of the prize will take place at the Hilton Waterfront Hotel in Burlington, Vt., on Nov. 5, National Philanthropy Day.
Friedman’s early foray into philanthropy began as a personal journey motivated by a desire to help her mother, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a diagnosis she has received three times.
Friedman was 3 when her mother was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000, but was inspired by her older brother, Tyler, who along with some friends began participating in the Relay For Life.
“That was his way of fighting back,” Friedman said. “I wanted to be able to help.”
When Hannah Friedman’s cancer came back in 2005, she wanted to be completely honest with her kids, so she sought the support services of the Center For Grieving Children. There, her children, who were ages 7 and 11, learned to focus their emotions on making a positive difference.
“We always stayed true to optimism,” Hannah Friedman said. “No matter what you’re dealt, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.”
Since Rachel Friedman loved to sing and dance ever since she could speak and walk – talents her mother said were passed on by Rachel’s father, Greg – she thought about using her passion to organize a Perform for a Cure, a variety show of singing, dancing, acting and visual arts.
“This is my way of fighting back,” Rachel Friedman said.
She thought the event would be small enough to fit into the dance studio of her South Portland dance instructor Cheryl Greely, but as word spread community interest quickly grew. The first show, which took place at Scarborough High School in 2006, featured more than 30 adult and child performers and was attended by more than 100 people. It raised $1,700.
Then something happened.
“It just started doubling year after year,” Hannah Friedman said.
The 2009 Perform for a Cure featured about 175 child performers and the show sold out every one of the South Portland Auditorium’s 680 seats. There is so much interest in the event that Hannah Friedman is working on a handbook to help other communities organize similar events. Scarborough native Jeff Poulin is trying to organize a Perform for the Cure in Oklahoma city, where he attends college.
“It’s gotten really big,” Rachel Friedman said.
Meanwhile, the Friedmans are looking for ways to broaden the organizations that benefit from the event, including the Center for Grieving Children. Recently, they began selling concessions to raise money for the Cancer Community Center of South Portland, where Hannah Friedman works a few days a week teaching “functional fitness” to patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Hannah Friedman said she still cannot believe how her children have responded to the call for public service and that having a variety show of child entertainers is one way to iinspire others, while also displaying the talents opf chilrden in the community.
“We believe it’s really good to get kids involved,” the 12-year-old said. “It’s really great to have a talent and to be able to use that talent to help other people. It’s cool.”
“It blows my mind,” Hannah Friedman said. “My cup runneth over.”