Hope of a Generation

On day one of their strategic marketing class at Apex High School, Katie Godfrey, Megan Gravley and Sydney Snedeker decided to host a gala to raise money for the V Foundation.

The three girls pledged to raise $10,000, in honor of loved ones who had battled cancer. In Gravley’s case, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks into the project.

“Everyone really had doubts in us,” Godfrey said — except their teacher, Greg Murphy. “I want to believe that he was the only one who didn’t doubt us.”

“Age was a pretty big obstacle. I think we are all pretty confident and well-spoken and capable of handling ourselves in a professional way,” Snedeker said. “It’s hard to look at three high school girls saying, ‘We’re going to raise $10,000’ and take them seriously.”

Yet even before the night of the gala the trio had already raised $16,000, including sponsorships from 18 area businesses. They even had to create a $1,000 sponsorship level when a company requested to donate more than the girls ever expected. By the end of the night, the total raised was $30,000.

From August to the night of the Peak City Gala of Hope — January 22 — the girls endured many sleepless nights and were thankful for friends who backed them up with everything from supportive text messages to macaroni and cheese.

To emphasize the importance and power of young people, the team elected to have the gala staffed primarily by about 20 other youth workers. The gala, which left few with dry eyes, welcomed 250 attendees for food, live and silent auctions, music by band Long Time Gone, and State Auditor Beth Wood as speaker.

“We would keep coming up with ideas and look at our calendar, and there’d be no time and no room, but you find a way to be fearless in it,” Godfrey said. With their dedication to the cause and “networking our way through Apex, Cary and Raleigh,” the girls surprised even the most supportive by receiving a personal salutation from Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski in an introductory video, and securing an interview with Debbie Yow.

The teens took home a number of lessons from their blur of a senior year. “We learned in school how to work in a business environment, but we didn’t understand how to interact with people until we really did it,” Gravley said.

At first, their vision for the gala involved glitz and glamour. After weighing expenses and deciding to make every decision in the interest of raising the most money possible for cancer research, they settled on a more modest affair, held at Peak United Methodist Church.

“As perfectionist as we all are, we realized we could have paper plates and ham sandwiches and honor all the people we’d met and who had been affected by the disease,” Snedeker said.

Their work wasn’t done on January 23. They traveled to Greensboro in early March for the state competition of DECA, an organization of marketing students. They won first place, then were sent to a national competition in Salt Lake City in April.

In front of a crowd of 14,000 people, the “gala girls” were named national champs for their project.

As they left the building, coming down from the rush of winning, they noticed what they describe as a sign. “Garrett” was stamped atop each metal detector at the doors of the building. A simple brand name to everyone else, it carried a blessing to Snedeker, who had devoted her participation in the project to a longtime friend who lost his battle with cancer, Garrett Maliska.

Though the trio will soon part ways and depart for college at Elon, N.C. State and Texas, all three now sit on the board for the Meg’s Smile Foundation, which provides gifts to children with serious illnesses. Another gala isn’t in their immediate future, but it’s not hard to tell they’ll continue their mission of hope.

One sponsor, Gravley said, summed up the thoughts of many in telling them, “You’re giving us hope in your generation.”

With all the notoriety and esteem that’s come their way, Godfrey made one point clear: “It’s so easy for us to become the faces of the gala, but there is only one face: cancer.”

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