March 28, 2013 in Washington Voices

Student’s community service effort helps kids fighting cancer

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Taylor Gatts, a University High School senior, launched a nonprofit organization – Kids Against Cancer – for her culminating senior project. Gatts has been raising funds for children’s cancer research, working with children with cancer and even shaved her head to donate her hair to Locks of Love.
(Full-size photo)

How to help

To volunteer or donate to Kids Against Cancer, email or go to

An assignment for school – the senior culminating project all students need to complete before they graduate – has led a University High School student on a path of long-term community service.

Taylor Gatts, 17, was hoping to do a job shadow with an anesthesiologist a year ago. It didn’t work out because of privacy laws and patient liability.

Gatts’ adviser, Sara Wagenblast, said most students complete projects that are related to the field they want to get into later in life. Projects either serve to affirm their chosen field or convince them they should look into something else.

Because Gatts ran into so many problems trying to find someone to job shadow, she sat down and thought about something else she could do.

“I love kids,” she said. “Kids are going to be our future.”

She started by thinking of a fundraiser she could do for children with cancer at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. She and the children at the hospital created Christmas cards using paint and the children’s footprints and handprints. She sold the cards and the money went back to Sacred Heart.

When one of the girls, a 4-year-old with leukemia and diabetes, was getting the paint washed off her feet, the girl’s mother pulled Gatts aside and told her it was the first time in weeks since she had seen her daughter laugh and have fun.

“That’s really why I’m doing this,” Gatts said.

It occurred to Gatts she needed to do more for the children. She started Kids Against Cancer, and even took the time and money to get a 501(c)(3) tax designation.

“She just got more and more excited the bigger it got,” Wagenblast said.

She visits the children at the hospital often, as it’s nice for them to spend time with people who aren’t doctors. She recently made dinner for the children and families at the Ronald McDonald House and is selling honey sticks at school to raise more funds.

“I’m trying to help raise awareness in the community,” she said.

Gatts also set up a board of directors, four others who range in age from their 20s through their 60s.

“Every decision we make is a group effort,” Gatts said.

Three weeks ago, she shaved her head and donated 22 inches of hair to Locks of Love.

“It was a really great experience,” she said. Her family and friends were with her and even took turns cutting off her long hair in sections. One of the children who visits the hospital for treatment said to her, “We’re twins now.”

Adam Daniel, U-Hi’s DECA adviser, said Gatts approached him about selling the honey sticks in the school’s DECA store. He said she came into his class with a business proposal that could have got her to the national DECA competition.

Right now, you can buy honey sticks from the Kids Against Cancer website if you aren’t a student who can shop at the DECA store. They come in packs of seven for $3: $1.50 goes to her supplier and the rest goes to the charity. Gatts is hoping to get them into coffee shops or other local businesses.

Although she is set to graduate this June, Gatts intends to continue her work once she gets into the nursing/anesthesiology program at Spokane Community College.

As for her senior culminating project, which started all of this, “I passed,” Gatts said.

Wagenblast said she knows Gatts is going to do great things outside of high school, and praised the maturity she has shown in taking on this project.

Gatts credits the children at the hospital by providing the motivation she needs to keep Kids Against Cancer going.

“Since the first day, I have changed so much because they (the children) have changed me.”

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