Fargo and Moorhead Campuses Rally to Support a Cause Near to their Hearts
By Kaila Illsley on 10/31/2019
Rasmussen College hosted its eleventh annual Community Service Day on July 19, 2019. Approximately 700 employees from the College’s 23 campuses and three central offices participated in the national service day event, helping communities across the U.S. Through this annual effort, faculty and staff volunteer more than 2,100 hours in a 24-hour period.
Each campus community chose local volunteer organizations to donate their time to for this year’s event. The Fargo and Moorhead campuses chose to partner together to support a local organization close to their hearts. They chose to partner with Zach’s Foundation, whose mission is to help pediatric patients in the area forget they are battling cancer and “just be kids” by providing fun moments of joy, resources for their family and financial assistance.
The Foundation was founded by Rasmussen College Assistant Professor of Nursing Ellen Rummel from the Moorhead campus when she lost her son, Zach. He was just eight years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015. Zach fought hard until the very end when he lost the battle to cancer almost a year later. “"When your child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, your life is completely turned upside down,” Ellen says. “But the support of the community that we had during Zach’s battle was incredible. We received so much support from friends, family and many people we didn’t even know from fun experiences and gifts to financial support resources". The support of the community had such an impact on Ellen that it inspired her to create a foundation that specifically gives back to pediatric patients and their families. “For each family, we want to provide moments of joy, cancer resources and financial assistance,” she says.
While the focus is often on the child battling cancer, Ellen made sure Zach’s Foundation included support for siblings as well. “When a child is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, the attention tends to shift to that child understandably. When Zach was sick, I really appreciated when others made an effort to include my daughter, Alexa. Just to see the joy on both of their faces meant so much to me. So I wanted to make sure we included the siblings of pediatric patients in the work we do. They deserve moments of joy too,” she says.
When the campuses were planning their Community Service Day efforts the idea arose to host a Summer Carnival in benefit of the Foundation, as well as to create Buddy Bags for children at the Roger Maris Cancer Center, everyone was on board. Senior Advisor Mandy Zastre spearheaded the efforts to bring these ideas to life. “Ellen’s mission for the Foundation inspired me to pay it forward,” she explains.
Faculty and staff, along with community members, came together to make these events happen in a big way. The campuses partnered with the greater community to gather donations for the Summer Carnival and Buddy Bags that were later filled with Chuck-E-Cheese gift certificates, fleece blankets, stuffed animals and plenty of toys to give to patients at the Roger Maris Cancer Center on the Friday following the Summer Carnival. The goal was to raise $5,000 in goods and monetary donations, but the Fargo/Moorhead community hit that goal out of the park with their well over $12,000 worth of donations for Zach’s Foundation. “It was just incredible the generosity that was shown with these events!” Ellen says. “It was truly unbelievable.
Walking into the Summer Carnival, Ellen was blown away by the turnout. “It was way more than we had expected. The kids were all running around with bags of toys and snacks. Seeing that joy on their faces really encompassed the whole essence of our Foundation’s mission,” she says. “It was humbling to see everyone pitching in. Staff members were all running games and interacting with the kids. Everyone seemed so happy and it was pretty emotional for me.”
The very next day, volunteers from the College put together the Buddy Bags and went to the Roger Maris Cancer Center to share them with patients. “Delivering the Buddy Bags was such an amazing experience. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. The joy on the faces of the kids was beautiful. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Mandy shares. One of the most touching moments volunteers encountered that day was with a boy celebrating his birthday. “He specifically chose to be in treatment the day of his birthday because of how great the staff at Roger Maris are. So how cool is it that we were able to up that fun factor for him with Legos and Chuck-E-Cheese?!” Mandy says.
When reflecting on this year’s Community Service Day efforts, Ellen is overwhelmed with gratitude. “Not only is Rasmussen College an amazing place to work, they are also so willing to promote such great causes and get involved in the community.”
To learn more about Zach’s story and Ellen’s efforts with Zach’s Foundation, visit their website. “The two biggest things I learned from this whole experience were ‘don’t sweat the small things’ and ‘reach out to others when they’re struggling,’” Ellen says. “Pay it forward. That’s what Zach’s Foundation always tries to do.”
Learn more about Rasmussen College’s dedication to the communities it serves.