- March 17, 2016
For the last four years, Cooper Bryan has been building a reputation at B.D. Gullett Elementary School.
The 9-year-old is the fundraising champion of her school in the annual Pasta for Pennies event, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's School & Youth Campaign. The money goes toward cancer research and aids cancer patients with paying bills and other necessities.
"Cooper and her sister are my penny goddesses," Gullett Principal Dr. Shirin Gibson said.
Bryan, who is now a third-grader, has been teaching her younger sister, kindergartener Carson LeBlanc, the art of fundraising for the cause. The duo has collected more than $1,000 in just a week.
The school is offering the Pasta for Pennies campaign from Jan. 27 through Feb. 5. Students are encouraged to collect change from family and friends, and collections will be counted Friday to determine which two classes collected the most money.
The top two classes will have a pasta party, with food donated from Olive Garden, the company that created the fundraiser.
Monica Rice, a guidance counselor, said students have plenty of ways to build donations.
"Students can do chores around the house," Rice said. "This isn't a door-to-door fundraiser. We want children to ask their family and friends just for loose change. This shows them how far a penny can go."
For the first time, students can also receive donations online, which makes it easier for participants to generate donations from family and friends who live in other states.
So what's the sisters' secret?
With the help of her mother, Dana LeBlanc, they reach out to family and friends daily and tell them about the fundraiser and the people it benefits.
Sometimes they share their mom's story about how leukemia touched her life.
In 2007, Dana LeBlanc's best friend, Jannon Barker, who was a teacher in Atlanta, died from leukemia.
"Pasta For Pennies helped pay for Jannon's medical bills," LeBlanc said. "They do so much, and the money they raise goes to helping families who can't afford medical bills. I've seen this all work firsthand."
When Cooper started kindergarten at Gullett four years ago, she learned the school participated in the program.
"We wanted to honor Jannon," LeBlanc said. "Everyone has their causes and they're all important and special. This is one that’s just special to us, something we want to be a part of. "
Although her daughters take pride in their notoriety for being the "fundraising queens of the school," they welcome friendly competition.
"Kids in class say they'll raise more money than me this year and I say, 'Bring it," Bryan said. "It's more money for the cause."