Local Students of the Year raise over $130,000 for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Jason Wexler and Kourosh Sadr were named Students of the Year for their fundraising efforts with Answer for Cancer.

Grauer School senior Jason Wexler and his co-candidates Kourosh Sadr and Payton Rosen from Canyon Crest Academy were recently named The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Students of the Year. During the seven-week competition, Jason’s team Answer for Cancer raised $119,607 to help in the fight against cancer, setting a new record for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s San Diego-Hawaii region.

Since being announced Students of the Year at a virtual Grand Finale event on March 6, Answer for Cancer was able to bring in additional donations and are now over $130,000.

“It’s always been my dream to find a cure for cancer,” said Jason.

CCA junior Payton Rosen was named Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Students of the Year.

When he was little, he used to make potions out of oatmeal and other household items, imagining that he was curing cancer. As he got older, he realized he didn’t have the science background to actually create the cure but discovered he could approach it in a different way by raising money to help fund the search for a cure.

Jason has participated in the Students of the Year program for the past two years, raising over $100,000.
Kourosh, a sophomore at Canyon Crest Academy, joined as a co-candidate this year in honor of his uncle who lost his battle to cancer. For co-candidate Payton, a junior at Canyon Crest, the mission was also personal as she fundraised in honor of her two aunts. She has seen firsthand the effects that blood cancer has on everyone involved and wanted to do her part and help work toward the goal of finding a cure.

“It’s been my pleasure starting Team Answer for Cancer and leading it for the last three years. It was my goal to create a team that would thrive even after I go to college. I hope I’ve helped my peers realize that they are capable of doing incredible things if they put their mind to it,” Jason said. “I have known many people touched by cancer and it has pained me to watch my friends lose their loved ones. I don’t want anyone to have to go through that. Together, we can be the Answer for Cancer.”

The pandemic brought extra challenges for fundraising this year. In past years Jason, who does musical theater at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, had put on live theater performances to fundraise for Answer for Cancer. With in-person events not possible, he had to get creative—his team hosted virtual yoga classes, a virtual poker tournament and restaurant nights. His team met frequently on Zoom as they came up with ways to fundraise.

Members of the Answer for Cancer team on a Zoom call.

The Answer for Cancer team includes mostly fellow musical theater students that he recruited from other schools including Alara Baran, Allison Burwell, Caroline Yao, Connor Linggi, Elizabeth Gardner, Emily Boodman, Marc Berger, Mia Crocker, Nika Sadr, Sofia Vitale and Zeyna Sabovic from Canyon Crest Academy; Audrey Le and Gianna Choy from Torrey Pines High School; Colleen Lyons from Cathedral Catholic, Talia Depodesta from Francis Parker, Gibson Witz and Stella Witz from Pacific Ridge; Kai Bengston from Mission Bay High School; Alicia Russo from Mt. Carmel High School; Natalie Chowaiki from Torah High School; Katie Ditter and Shira Ehrlich from Westview High School; Rachael Debraal from University City High School and Gabriel Selner from The Grauer School.

“I am so proud of what my team was able to accomplish,” Jason said. “I realized that a group of high school students can do anything.”

Torrey Pines student Rini Ampelas was this year’s Students of the Year Runner-Up.

This year’s Students of the Year Runner-Up was Rini Ampelas, a sophomore at Torrey Pines High School who raised over $115,000. Combined, the 2021 class, comprised of 19 teams of high school students, raised $525,800 to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a new campaign record in San Diego.

“Congratulations to Jason, Kourosh, Payton and all our candidates, supporters and volunteers who helped to make Students of the Year a huge success. Despite the unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they never lost hope,” said Kathlene Seymour, LLS’s San Diego-Hawaii’s executive director. “While everyone was working to adjust to a ‘new normal,’ they relentlessly wanted to make sure to not forget the over 1.3 million people living with or in remission from a blood cancer, many of whom are children. For these individuals, it’s not just about winning a title; it’s all about the impact they are making in their communities and the generations ahead of them.”