UM Sophomore Raises $41K to Fight Blood Cancers

Riley Juenger became involved in efforts to honor classmate who died from leukemia

UM sophomore Riley Juenger, of St. Louis, has raised more than $41,000 to fight bone cancers and has been named Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Student of the Year for the St. Louis area. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi sophomore Riley Juenger set a goal to raise $25,000 to fight blood cancers. On the surface, this seems like an overly ambitious objective for just one person. 

It turns out she wasn’t alone in her efforts and in just a few short weeks, the sophomore banking and finance major from St. Louis raised $41,434 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of St. Louis.

Juenger recently was named LLS Student of the Year there after raising the most funds. Her total is a new record for the Student of the Year campaign. 

“When I first embarked on my fundraising campaign, I would sit in my apartment and think to myself, ‘How am I ever going to raise $25,000?'” Juenger said. “I honestly couldn’t have done it without a great team behind me.

“I am very blessed to have so many wonderful people working with me, including last year’s LLS Woman of the Year, Michelle Jordan-Berndt, who was the driving force behind our successful campaign.”

Juenger will continue this fundraising effort through the end of June in hopes of raising $50,000. If that total is reached, the funding will qualify for an LLS research portfolio grant so the funds can be 100 percent directed to a specific blood cancer. She is using a website for receiving online donations. 

She credits her parents, Kevin and Melissa Juenger, as well as her brother, Sam, and many friends and family for helping her raise the money. She also cherishes the opportunity to meet two St. Louis-area children affected by illness, whom the LLS group is honoring this year. This experience was much more rewarding than winning the award, she said. 

“Talking with them and their families and seeing how happy they were is what it’s all about,” Juenger said. 

LLS is the world’s leading nonprofit voluntary health organization dedicated to finding cures for blood cancers and ensuring that patients have access to lifesaving treatments.

Juenger has a personal connection to the issue, which became the catalyst of her efforts. When she was in fourth grade, one of her schoolmates at Visitation Academy in St. Louis was diagnosed with leukemia and courageously battled the disease until it took her life a few months later.

At the time, Juenger didn’t understand the disease that her schoolmate, Molly Gleason, was battling and asked her parents to explain it. The difficult realization that illness and death can strike anyone at any time came to her then.

Knowing Molly and her story instilled a lifelong conviction in Juenger to fight blood cancers and raise money and awareness in hopes of finding a cure. She has run 5-Ks and 10-Ks to support the cause and has been involved in other efforts to fight the disease.

University of Mississippi sophomore Riley Juenger, of St. Louis, poses with her award for being named Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Student of the Year for the St. Louis area. Submitted photo

Her parents also have supported efforts to help those struggling with the disease.

“Molly’s story had a profound impact on me,” Juenger said. “She battled this cancer with courage, dignity and a strong faith. I knew at that moment I needed to be involved and somehow give back to those fighting blood cancers.”

Every nine minutes, someone in the U.S. dies of a blood cancer, said Debbie Kersting, LLS executive director.

Through programs such as Student of the Year, LLS has invested more than $1 billion in research to advance breakthrough therapies. Money raised through LLS’s Student of the Year is used for research to advance targeted therapies and immunotherapies that are saving thousands of lives, blood cancer information, education, support for patients and creating policies to ensure patients have access to blood cancer treatments.

“Congratulations to our 2017 Student of the Year, Riley Juenger, and to all of our candidates and campaign team members who participated in this year’s Student of the Year campaign,” Kersting said. “These exceptional volunteers are all passionate and determined individuals, and leaders in their communities. Together, we are getting closer to LLS’s goal of a world without blood cancer.”