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Published March 23, 2013, 09:50 AM

10-year-old in Grand Forks honored for donating $1,000

While most young boys want to spend their earnings on toys or video games, one Grand Forks 10-year-old donated $1,000 of his own money over five years to charity instead.

By: Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, INFORUM

While most young boys want to spend their earnings on toys or video games, one Grand Forks 10-year-old donated $1,000 of his own money over five years to charity instead.

Cheers greeted Phoenix Elementary School fourth-grader Jak Urlacher Friday during a school assembly recognizing his annual donations to Pennies for Patients, a fundraiser that collects spare change from students nationwide for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Most of the money was earned through hard work and the sole reason he donated was to help out people with cancer, he told students.

Phoenix is the only school in the district that participated in the program this year and raised $1,204, with nearly a third of that attributed to Urlacher alone.

Strong impact

When students were first introduced to the charity in kindergarten, Urlacher’s interest was piqued though he didn’t have any family member or friends with cancer. He donated $50 that year.

“When I thought children and adults were in trouble or hurting, I decided to donate a lot to charity,” he said.

Jak had also been told several children in Grand Forks were benefitting from the funds, as each participating school’s donations support children in its region. He’d even met a few cancer patients through the campaign’s presentation, such as Ellen Bailey, a student from Larimore, N.D. Bailey, who is in fourth grade now, was recognized Friday at Phoenix Elementary for her cancer-free status from leukemia.

Urlacher said meeting children with cancer face-to-face really made an impact on him. “That kind of determined me even more to give larger amounts,” he said.

Growing donations

Urlacher gives nearly all of his money to the charity every year.

After that initial $50, he increased his annual donations to $100, then $200 and then $300 last year. He estimated that he keeps $40 or $50 for himself each year.

Initially, Urlacher’s parents said they were kind of concerned about the high amount their son was donating. Uncertain he realized how much money he was giving away, they stressed a 10 percent donation would still be considered reasonable, and other charities could receive his help, too, said his father Brian Urlacher.

But Jak Urlacher said he wasn’t interested in other charities because he wasn’t familiar with them, and unlike many children his age, he didn’t find anything worth buying. “Not very many things in the store interested me.”

Sometimes, he’d get concerned mid-year that he wasn’t going to reach his goal.

This year, he wanted to give $400 but only had enough for $350, he said.

His mother, Angela Harrison-Urlacher, said she watched her son several times debate with himself whether to buy something because he worried he wouldn’t have enough for the charity.

“We tried to talk him out of it,” Brian Urlacher said with a laugh. “It was not something we were pushing on him. If anything, we spent a lot of time really making sure he was serious.”

Jak Urlacher earned his money the old-fashioned way. He did small chores and summer yard work for his parents, and saved every penny from holidays and birthdays.

He told students that he earned $7 an hour for chores, and $20 a month for requested chores such as sweeping the garage.

Denise Lofthuse, a counselor at Phoenix and fundraiser organizer, boiled it down for students: His donation this year equaled 50 hours of work.

“That is compassion — to work and to give to other people,” she said.

Going for gold

Phoenix students have given plenty of change over the past five years.

The school donated $262 the first year and continued to increase its donations, said Kirsten Abner, a Phoenix parent who helped introduce the program to the school. Last year, students nationwide raised $28.7 million through Pennies for Patients.

Phoenix was placed in the charity’s gold category for its contributions, as was Urlacher, who received a gold pennant.

Several students who helped with the campaign noted his generosity, and said they were impressed by his $100 donation in first grade. Some couldn’t even imagine saving that much.

“I’m a really spendy girl, so I can’t save my allowance for five weeks or more than that,” said Isabelle Gallardo, 11.

As for Urlacher, he said he hopes students will think of him as a role model for donating.

“I encourage them to donate,” he said.

Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1736; or send e-mail to jjohnson@gfherald.com.