Riverwood seniors Sophie Yagoda and Lily Schneider didn’t just want to make a difference when their friend Brantley Dobbs died of DIPG, a malignant pediatric brain tumor. They also sought to apply the lessons they learned at the Epstein School.
Lily and Sophie were introduced to Brantley through Ian’s Friends Foundation, which funds research dedicated to overcoming pediatric brain cancer. Brantley died in December.
To help preserve his memory, Sophie and Lily sold rubber bracelets with “Be a Warrior” etched in the bands for $3 each.
The bracelets remind people to be brave, Lily said, and raised money for a bench in memory of Brantley. The fundraiser was initially part of a school volunteer project that asked students to support a venture close to them.
Sophie is the sister of Ian from Ian’s Friends Foundation, but she noted that the fundraiser is separate from the nonprofit. “While my parents have been involved in the foundation, the project was something Lily and I wanted to do that was more personal and would allow us to take action upon ourselves,” Sophie said. “We wanted to bring our creative minds together and absorb how Dobbs influenced us.”
The girls used social media outlets such as Facebook to raise awareness about the fundraiser and DIPG, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.
Sophie and Lily estimate that they helped raise $1,000 in honor of Brantley. Beyond the cost of the memorial bench, the money will be donated to DIPG research, which is showing promise.
Researchers at Stanford discovered that immunotherapy could target gene mutations to prevent future tumors. Cancer cells derived from 6-year-old Jennifer Lynn Kranz, who died of DIPG in 2014, were instrumental in the research.
DIPG also garnered national attention this spring because of the Lemon Face Challenge, which went viral among some Major League Baseball teams and was promoted by Alabama football coach Nick Saban. Whereas the Ice Bucket Challenge encouraged people to pour ice-cold water on themselves to raise awareness of ALS, participants in the lemon challenge must eat lemon wedges and post their best sour faces online.
Aubreigh Nicholas, 11, started the movement after she was diagnosed with DIPG.
The Riverwood girls faced more mundane challenges, Sophie said, such as spreading the word about their fundraiser and getting people to complete orders.
“When we first began the fundraiser, it was a hot topic, but then it suddenly died out, which forced Lily and me to start asking people if they were interested,” Sophie said. “Our friends helped, but it was hard to get people to follow through.”
Like Sophie and Lily, Brantley enjoyed walking in nature. Sophie said, “He was an average kid who loved nature, going to the park and playing outside, and we thought a bench would show his love for that.”
Because it has taken longer than expected to get a permit to place the bench in a park, the girls are not sure where the memorial will be located but are considering a park in Sandy Springs.
After graduation Lily, a National Merit finalist, will attend Georgia Tech, where she plans to study chemistry but is considering switching to engineering. Sophie was accepted to the University of Michigan after she applied to the school’s communications and liberal arts program but is interested in special education.
The girls say their desire to give back stems from Jewish principles they learned at Epstein.
“Lily and I have watched our parents do all these cool and amazing things, and we are finally doing something ourselves, with the help of everyone, of course,” Sophie said. “We want people who have family members that are currently suffering from DIPG to know that they are not alone and that there are community members who care.”
She added: “Everyone deserves recognition, even after they pass. It doesn’t matter what their age.”