Virginia Tech Student Changes the Lives of Children Across America

Blacksburg, Va ––

As you walk into David Anand’s room at the Tau Kappa Epsilon barn, it’s hard to miss the 12 by 3-foot check.

“That check is my biggest accomplishment in life—besides my girlfriend,” Anand said.

In April 2018, Virginia Tech’s Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter held its annual “TKE Week” to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which allows children with fatal diagnoses to receive treatment at no cost.

Since families do not pay for hospital services, St. Jude’s relies on donations to compensate for their daily operating cost of over $2.2 million. The St. Jude’s website notes that “because more than 75 percent [of operating costs] comes from generous donors, St. Jude has the freedom to focus on what matters most—saving kids regardless of their financial situation.”

Due to the research and treatments of St. Jude’s, the survival rate for childhood cancer has skyrocketed from only 20 percent to 80 percent since 1962.

Eager to continue supporting this progress, the fraternity set the ambitious goal of doubling the 2017 total of $100,000.

The pressure fell on the shoulders of Anand, TKE Philanthropy Chair.

“Despite being one of our younger, more inexperienced brothers when he won the position [of philanthropy chair], you always felt this wave of energy and confidence flood the room when he would get into philanthropy announcements,” said Michael Sloper, president of TKE.

Although Anand exhibited confidence in front of his brothers, he privately worried about the magnitude of the feat before him.

“Two hundred thousand was always the goal, but there were definitely times when I didn’t think that we would reach it,” the Virginia Tech junior said.

The fundraising week began in April 2018, but he started planning for it in December of 2017. He expected to collect the majority of donations online, but that didn’t mean he planned for an uneventful week on campus.

On the first day of TKE Week, he capitalized on the students’ sweet spot for canines and planted a puppy pen on the Drillfield where students could donate to play with them.

Friday night, the young men of TKE transformed their barn into a Las Vegas-style casino with Blackjack, Texas Hold’em, and poker tables. Their families traveled from their hometowns to Blacksburg to spend a night dedicated to St Jude’s.

“We have one of the best philanthropy week experiences on Virginia Tech’s campus because we’re super committed to the cause, while making sure that everyone who participates has a good time too,” said Kyle Cascaes, TKE member since 2017.

Next on the agenda was Battle of the Bands. Virginia Tech students flocked to 622 North to watch five bands compete with one another for first place. By the end of the night, The Serviettes captured the victory.

However, $200,000 remained a distant dream.

“More than halfway through TKE Week we had raised $95,000, which was definitely something to be proud of, but nowhere near our goal,” Anand said.

Not ready to give up, the guys convinced nearly 430 students to attend their talent show the following Monday. Nineteen organizations volunteered to participate, with Pi Lambda Phi taking home first place for their musical performance.

Just as the talent show came to an end, Anand, Greg Marggraf, Noah Rendon, Jeremy Natale, and Andrew Foley grabbed a seat center stage. Amidst the commotion, the quintet announced that if they reached enough donations within five minutes, they would shave their heads in front of the live audience.

As it turned out, many students jumped at the opportunity to see Marggraf part ways with his beloved mullet.

“It was with great pain and emotion to see [the mullet] go after all we had been through, but the circumstances were able to replace the pain with pure joy because it was helping the kids,” the short-haired junior said.

Although Marggraf bade goodbye to his locks, the money earned from this stunt made a large dent in the overall goal.

“That day, we raised $50,000 in 24 hours,” Anand said.

By Tuesday morning, the TKE Philanthropy Chair’s confidence soared as the total sat at $145,000, but Anand knew he still hadn’t crossed the finish line. The brothers took to campus and social media to collect the remaining amount.

They pleaded to relatives on Facebook, sent out Venmo requests to all their friends, and stationed outside of dining halls to ask students for cash and coin donations.

At the end of the day, all they could do was wait for the final tally.

“Our donation portal crashed due to the sheer amount that was being donated. David later pulled all of us together and announced from the top of a pool table that we had just passed our goal and the entire room went ballistic,” Sloper said. “The moment was so iconic—it felt like a movie.”

Anand breathed a sigh of relief, embracing the reality that he had attained the $200,000 goal.

“I truly believe it was David’s passion that inspired our brotherhood to reciprocate that same level of dedication,” Sloper said.

Since 2013, the young men of TKE at Virginia Tech have donated over $487,000 to St. Jude’s research, funding treatments and maintenance of the hospital.

On top of giving tangible contributions, TKE also helps on a more personal level. Every spring, the guys make a road trip to Memphis, Tennessee to familiarize themselves with the hospital and visualize what their money accomplishes.

“Experiencing the hospital and witnessing the kids’ struggles with cancer were two of the biggest motivators that inspired our brothers to put in 110 percent,” Sloper said.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital lines their walls with bright, colorful murals and replaces wheelchairs with red wagons to preserve the youthfulness of the children. Those who’ve gone on the group trip describe St Jude’s as anything but what the word “hospital” normally connotes.

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit the hospital three times, and each time I’ve walked away feeling overwhelmed and inspired,” Anand said. “I’ve never seen so much positivity and courage in the face of pain, fear, and uncertainty in anyone, much less kids who should be in elementary school.”

Anand, holding on to his position of philanthropy chair for the upcoming spring semester, welcomes Sloper as co-philanthropy chair.

The pair eagerly anticipates what they can accomplish in 2019.

“Last year, I was inspired to see how passionate the guys were during TKE Week. The fact that guys shaved their heads showed me it was more than just about raising money for their philanthropy—they actually cared,” said Gabby Repp, member of Zeta Tau Alpha and recently-elected sweetheart of TKE. “I’m excited to see their energy first-hand this year.”

Despite individual donations and each TKE brother’s commitment throughout the fundraiser, the responsibility for hitting the $200,000 mark falls primarily on the shoulders of Anand, due to his critical planning and tenacity.

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