A group of high school students, mostly from the Phoenix area, are stepping up to help Arizona’s tribal population with COVID-19 relief, raising more than $10,000 for the Navajo Nation.
What started in 2015 with four friends uniting to do their part to address misfortunes, youth Michael Bendok started the 501(c)3 non-profit organization called, Kidz 4 Causes.
Dedicated to improving lives of disadvantaged children, the organization consists of high school students, ages 15-17, who make a difference in the community.
“I support Kidz 4 Causes because of my nephew’s passion and inspiration to help raise funds to improve the lives of children with rare diseases,” said John Naoum.
The group selects initiatives ranging from benefiting TGen, and underfunded speech and debate programs, to the Navajo Nation.
Between 2015 and 2019, the group focused on fundraising for TGen’s Center for Rare Childhood Disorders, financing expensive treatments for children with rare diseases such as what the group’s founder Mr. Bendok had as a kid.
He suffered from a rare blood disorder called Severe Chronic Neutropenia characterized by a low level of neutrophils, which is a type of white blood cell essential to fight bacterial infections. His Severe Chronic Neutropenia persisted for five years before spontaneously resolving itself as it reportedly does in many children.
“Michael reached out to us a couple months ago asking if we wanted to join the program and we all were more than happy to join this amazing cause,” said Sedona Korzay, Kidz 4 Causes donor liaison.
“Five years ago, his best friend’s younger brother, Harry, was diagnosed with a rare disease called Bronchitis Obliterans. This disease obstructs the lung’s airways, causing permanent scarring. As a result, his lungs only have a 30% air capacity, forcing him to carry around an oxygen tank wherever he goes.
Although his lifestyle has been permanently altered, research done by the Translational Genomics Research Institute’s Center for Rare Childhood Disorders saved his life,” Miss Korzay said.
Noting that other kids are not as fortunate as the two whose lives were changed by their conditions, she stated that one in 20 rare diseases do not have a treatment.
“Considering the fact that 25 million people currently suffer from one of 7,000 documented rare diseases in the United States, Michael found the statistic of the lack of treatment available for patients abysmal. In light of this, he saw an opportunity to raise money and awareness for a cause he is passionate about: rare disease treatments.
Just as Harry fought against Bronchitis Obliterans, Michael was going to fight to fund treatments for those in his community who cannot afford to treat their rare disease,” Miss Korzay said.
A member of the speech and debate community, Mr. Bendok also recognized the hardships others experienced even to attend debate tournaments.
He realized that going to tournaments was a privilege as “cost was an apparent barrier for some students,” so he decided to raise funds for underprivileged speech and debate programs.
Other relief efforts include the Navajo Nation Covid Relief project, which the organization has raised $11,000 to date.
“The Navajo Nation has been left behind by our government’s COVID-19 response. They were promised $8 billion and received $0. The Navajo population is most vulnerable to this pandemic with minimal access to hospitals and no government funding,” as stated on the Kidz 4 Causes website at kidz-4-causes.org/current-upcoming-events.
Donors are encouraged to contribute towards important medical needs including N-95 masks, face shields, ventilators and community needs such as hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and toiletries.
For every $10 donated or more, a health care worker will receive a hand-written Thank You card for providing support for emerging, critical needs across the country.
Card 4 Care Workers is an initiative started on June 1. Hospitals including but not limited to Dignity Health, Banner Health, and Mayo Clinic will benefit by the organization, spearheaded by a team of students who attend Phoenix high schools, inviting community efforts to help donate to charitable causes.
Kidz 4 Causes consists of students from the following schools: six from Phoenix Country Day School; one student from Brophy College Preparatory; two students from Hamilton high school;
One student who lives in Chicago attends Hinsdale Central High School; and one student living in Katy, Texas attends Tompkins High School.
Members include the president/director Michael Bendok; donor liaison, Sedona Korzay; whip, Mckinley Paltzik; event platform designer, Loukya Kotla; public relations outreach, Victoria Moreno; event logistics coordinators, Ben Kreisberger, Xander Black, Benjamin Marsden, Jillian Kahn, and Anika Attaluri; and marketing coordinator, Anya Shah.
Although many students are Arizona natives, students are from all over the country.
When not engaged in charitable efforts, the students are involved with events such as congressional debate, extemporaneous speaking and public forum debate while others participate in athletics such as track and field, soccer, dance, and horseback riding.
“We also have many musically talented students playing the piano, saxophone, and even participating in choir. To top it all off, one of the event coordinators, Ben K. has his piloting license,” said Miss Korzay.
“Our organization has switched our efforts from raising money for underfunded speech and debate programs to raising money for COVID-19 relief.
Arizona at the moment has become one of the largest hotspots in the world for COVID and the Navajo Nation is still suffering horribly. We are trying to get the funds we need so we can help them in this time of need.”