This Girl’s On Fire

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KSU student turns up heat to raise funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society KENNESAW, Ga.  (…

Georgia (Jul 23, 2015)

KSU student turns up heat to raise funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

KENNESAW, Ga.  (July 24, 2015) — A challenge to raise thousands of dollars in a high-stakes fundraiser while competing against a team of A-listers with corporate names like Comcast, Henri Bendel, Cartooon Network and Sotheby’s International Realty behind them would give almost anyone pause.    

Not Le’Dor Phoenix, a full-time communication major at Kennesaw State University, wife, mother and on-air talent for Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Phoenix not only took on the challenge of competing against 13 others for the Georgia Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2015 Man & Woman of the Year honor, she ignited a campaign of awareness and support that netted her the competition’s Community Involvement Award.  Her team, which she called “Firestarters,” raised about $30,000, falling short of the title honor.  Still, her efforts contributed to a national record-breaking total of just over $1.1 million raised by the 14 competitors in this year’s charity event.

From the very beginning, however, Phoenix says she was in it to win it.

“I love to compete,” she said. “When I realized that you couldn’t even attend the June gala event planned for the end of the competition if you didn’t raise $10,000, I knew it was game on. Without a corporate sponsor, I would have to raise the money one dollar at a time.  I had to do the work.”

Phoenix did go to work, focusing her campaign on community outreach.  She assembled a team of eight volunteers to help her.  Together they started planning appearances at events around metro Atlanta, mostly festivals, food truck days, outdoor concerts, golfing and networking events, where she sat up tables to promote the charity’s cause and herself as a candidate for Man & Woman of the Year.  She had friends donate items like makeup and gift certificates to local eateries, which she raffled off at various events. She also sent e-mails and tagged all her friends on social media to let them know where she would be.  In all, Phoenix estimates that she appeared at nearly a dozen events, soliciting donations at each.  At one point, she said, she had so many events planned, she had to create a spreadsheet to keep track and a website just to list everything. 

“I started a movement to spread awareness one dollar at a time,” said Phoenix, who admits to having an advantage because she “could sell water to a whale.” 

She talked her way into Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s boardroom to make a pitch for support and hitched her star to local celebrities at every opportunity. When Fox 5 newscaster Lisa Rayam came to speak to a communication class at Kennesaw State, Phoenix followed her into the hall to invite the reporter to cover her campaign kickoff, which did draw a Fox 5 camera crew.

“The power of asking is unbelievable,” said Phoenix, who hopes to work in television news when she graduates. "During the campaign, there was no one I wouldn’t ask.  I even asked for money from kids at the park.”

To illustrate, Phoenix noted that she asked and got officials at a poker tournament in Smyrna to donate 10 percent of the night’s proceeds to her campaign. She asked a popular Greek fraternity if she could solicit funds at its annual fundraiser, and they obliged. Among the high-value auction items she procured for the asking: autographed balls and gear from NBA All-Stars Dominique Wilkins and Charles Oakley; NFL Super Bowl and Baltimore Ravens star Jamal Lewis; Atlanta Falcons player Justin Blalock and former coach Dan Reeves; and the San Diego Chargers’ Ronnie Brown. While the Atlanta Hawks were on a 19-game winning streak, she got the entire team to autograph a team ball for the auction. She also snagged a $500 Wal-Mart gift card, an Apple TV, two six-week golf lessons and books signed by professional golf instructor Dwayne Gatlin, and a 10-person dinner party prepared by J.W. Marriott international chef Madikey Ceesay.

At some point in the competition, however, Phoenix said the focus of her efforts turned away from self-promotion for the sake of competition to the people that supported her and those who benefit from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s work. 

“The support I got from my family, my team and the community came to mean so much more to me,” she said.  “I saw the bigger picture and I realized it wasn’t just about me.” 

That realization prompted Phoenix to organize and host a “personal” event at which she, her 4-year-old son and husband entertained the families of the two 7-year-old acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients whom the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society designated as 2015 Boy & Girl of the Year.

Throughout the campaign, Phoenix juggled family responsibilities and May-mester and summer school classes. She says she is proud of her accomplishment.   

‘This was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but so rewarding. I made amazing contacts and friends for a lifetime.”

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— Sabbaye McGriff

Photo by Robert Anthony Stalcup



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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