More than 300 students boogied their way outside Northeast Elementary School to perform for two of their sick classmates.
The bouncy, upbeat rhythm of the hit song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams blared over the loudspeakers. Banners and posters emblazoned with happy faces and “get well” messages were held high over their heads.
And together, they danced, cheered and willed second-grader Macenzie Hawkins and fifth-grader Cheyenne Adams to get better.
Students, staff and teachers at Northeast in Greenwood banded together Tuesday to “show the love” for two young girls at the school who have been struggling with serious illnesses this year. The flash mob showed that the entire school community was thinking of them.
“We’re pretty big on community and really supporting our families. This is the first time in our memory that this has ever happened to two students at once,” said Mary McDermott, Macenzie’s teacher. “It felt like this was what we needed to do to help.”
Macenzie was diagnosed with a neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the nervous system, in February. Shortly after, doctors discovered a noncancerous aneurysmal bone cyst in Cheyenne’s neck that required extensive surgery and rehabilitation.
The idea for the Show the Love flash mob came from Laura Smith, a member of the Greenwood Kiwanis Club of Greenwood. She heard about both Macenzie and Cheyenne and was motivated to see what Kiwanis could do to help.
Working with Principal Amy Sander and some teachers, they came up with a schoolwide exhibition of affection.
The whole point was to show the two girls that the people around them love them and care about them, Smith said.
Teachers had their students write letters of hope for both Macenzie and Cheyenne. During art class, students made posters for the girls.
But the centerpiece of the event was the flash mob.
At the end of the school’s field day, everyone in the school planned to get together to perform a choreographed dance.
Organizers would be there to videotape the performance and put it up on YouTube.
That way, even though she has not been able to attend school since being diagnosed, Macenzie still will get to see it. The rest of Greenwood and people far beyond could share the experience as well. The Kiwanis Club is setting up funds for both families to collect donations from the community to help with costs associated with the girls’ treatment.
“We really wanted to raise community awareness of this, to let other people know their stories and what’s going on,” McDermott said.
For the girls’ families, the Northeast community has been right by their sides since the start.
Sander and other staff members have been in regular contact with both girls and their moms. They regularly send text messages and pick-me-up notes to the family.
McDermott and Gordon Goss, Cheyenne’s fifth-grade teacher, have been spending two or three days a week tutoring each girl at home, so they don’t fall behind their classmates.
Financial support has been important, as well.
McDermott and other teachers took one of Macenzie’s drawings from school to make T-shirts, with half of the proceeds going to her family. They sold rubber bracelets that said “Team Mac” as a fundraiser.
Individual teachers collected money and gave it to both families.
Rebeckah Barnes, Macenzie’s mother, had to take a week off work at RevOne Companies when Macenzie was initially diagnosed, so she had no income to make mortgage and car payments.
Since then, the constant travel costs hundreds of dollars in gas every week. Buying sports drinks and supplies while Macenzie is at home costs extra, too.
“It’s been overwhelming how much love they’ve shown,” Barnes said.
Cheyenne’s family also has struggled to pay the bills during the illness. For weeks at a time, her mother, Catherine Adams, has been unable to work while caring for her daughter. In mid-May, her lights were turned off until she could find enough money to pay back bills.
Teachers at Northeast Elementary School banded together to donate their own money to help the family pay for gas and meals.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Adams said. “They’ve done everything within their means that they’re able to.”