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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Driven to serve

Sunday, March 20, 2011

(Photo)
Always a leader, Kelly Pietkiewicz, executive director of Up 'til Dawn, was a finalist in the University of Memphis competition. From left are finalists Cathy Gianella, Urvi Patel, Kelly, Jasmine Hockett, and Jennifer Vallor.
(Submitted photo)
Service might have been Kelly Pietkiewicz's first word.

The daughter of two local educators, the University of Memphis senior has been taught to take a hand in the game and serve her community for as long as she can remember.

"My parents are both teachers and Micky and I come from Shelbyville, a very giving town," said Kelly, sister of former Times-Gazette intern Micky Pietkiewicz and daughter of Bill and Miriam Pietkiewicz. "We were both always taught to give back."

(Photo)
Both Pietkiewicz sisters have learned to give back from an early age. Here, the family visits the Target House -- a housing facility for St. Jude patients. Kelly and Micky, and their sisters from Alpha Gamma Delta, "can" for St. Jude. Canning is the biggest fundraising event for St. Jude throughout the year. Students go to busy intersections in Memphis, hold buckets and signs and ask for donations. In just one weekend of canning, Up 'til Dawn members collected $6,000. (Submitted photo)
New outlook

From her first day on campus, Kelly jumped face first into the college experience, something that goes far beyond books and term papers. One of the first organizations she became a part of, Up 'til Dawn, has been life-changing for Kelly.

"Mainly the reason I became involved is because I was part of the emerging leader program, which requires us to be in (such and such) number of groups," she said. "It seemed like a great way to become involved."

Kelly became a morale captain -- a.k.a. energizer -- for Up 'til Dawn, a large fundraiser that benefits the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Soon, her role with the organization became much more than one that was convenient.

Zeal for the cause

"Once I got into it I became passionate about it and St. Jude's and all it does," who became the executive director for Up 'Til Dawn before the start of her senior year.

University of Memphis students founded Up 'til Dawn 12 years ago as a fundraiser for St. Jude, which provides leading care to children fighting cancer. The program has spread to about 250 campuses across the United States with more than $28 million raised since its inception, according to a University of Memphis media release. Students take part in a number of fundraising activities that include letter-writing campaigns, developing community and restaurant partnerships and collection events at major intersections.

Fight in the night

This year's campaign culminated Feb. 25 with a special "all night" event on campus that featured a mother and patient of St. Jude's. During the evening's activities, officials revealed that this year's effort raised $152,142.26.

"By doing this event every year, we just hope that we can lessen the number of parents and children that have to go through that," said Kelly.

The finale is held from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. to symbolize the hours that parents and children might lie awake worrying about their health problems, said Kelly.

The name Up 'til Dawn also symbolizes "the fact that no child should die in the dawn of life," she said.

Huge success

Last year the the school's fundraiser surpassed the $1 million mark in total contributions, which is astounding and humbling at the same time, Kelly said.

Though Kelly has been touched by several children she's met through her involvement with St. Jude's over the years, the parents of those children have made the most impact, she says.

(Photo)
Kelly and Micky, and their sisters from Alpha Gamma Delta, "can" for St. Jude. Canning is the biggest fundraising event for St. Jude throughout the year. Students go to busy intersections in Memphis, hold buckets and signs, and ask for donations. In just one weekend of canning, Up 'til Dawn members collected $6,000.
(Submitted photo)
"What is always most memorable is meeting the parents, who see every side of (their child's struggle) it, the emotional side, the financial side; they see the day to day of how their child is doing," she said. "It means a lot when a parent walks up and says, 'I can't thank you enough.' They don't have to pay a cent at St. Jude's. Just to see the relieve on their faces ... and to think college students are doing this ..."

Sisterly love

Kelly is not the only Pietkiewicz involved in Up 'til Dawn. Since Micky set foot on the University of Memphis campus a couple of years ago, the younger sister has also taken a leadership role in Up 'til Dawn.

"I think it's really, really neat," said Kelly. "We're working in the same organization but we're serving in different roles. It's neat to see her strengths and how she applies them. We have different strengths but we come together for the same cause. It's made us closer than we've ever been.

"I am proud of her because she has done an awesome job."

Well-rounded life

In addition to her role with Up 'til Dawn, Kelly has also been involved with the Special Olympics, tutoring, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Big Brother Bigs Sisters, a sorority and, just for added fun, pageants.

Last fall, she was named a finalist in the Miss University of Memphis competition, which she said was "a huge honor."

"The application process was a lot of work, but once I got beyond that it was just a lot of fun."

One more year

Because of her involvement, Kelly, a future teacher, will be taking a fifth year at college to wrap up her degree and student teach.

The extra year of studies is well worth it, considering what she's gotten out of her "college experience."

"Students need to pick at least one thing because it enhances that college experience," she said. "Branch out, meet new friends, make those connections ... making those connections is so vital. I have been able to mingle and network with top executives from St. Jude's."

Kelly says one of the many lessons she has learned in college is the busier she is, the more she gets accomplished.

"If I know if have something going on on Saturday, I will get my homework done Thursday -- it helps me prioritize," she said. "And it keeps my mind off being homesick." ABOVE: Always a leader, Kelly Pietkiewicz, executive director of Up 'til Dawn, was a finalist in the University of Memphis competition. From left are finalists Cathy Gianella, Urvi Patel, Kelly, Jasmine Hockett, and Jennifer Vallor.

BELOW: Both Pietkiewicz sisters have learned to give back from an early age. Here, the family visits the Target House -- a housing facility for St. Jude patients.

Kelly and Micky, and their sisters from Alpha Gamma Delta, "can" for St. Jude. Canning is the biggest fundraising event for St. Jude throughout the year. Students go to busy intersections in Memphis, hold buckets and signs and ask for donations. In just one weekend of canning, Up 'til Dawn members collected $6,000.



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