Andrew the Elf: Taking Flight To Save Lives

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Andrew The Elf: Taking Flight to Save Lives

Over $125,000 raised for St. Jude, and it all started with an elf. 

“Your child has been diagnosed with cancer.” It is something we hear far too often these days. It could be a friend, a loved one, someone you work with or even one of your very own athletes. For me personally, I heard those words for the first time when I was 14 years old. The individual diagnosed was my mom’s coworkers 3-year-old son who would eventually inspire me to start doing fundraisers for St. Jude. Years later I would hear those words again, this time it hit a bit closer to home as those words came from my mother’s mouth. I was 20 and she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. That is when I really got involved, that’s when I decided it was my time to start making a difference.

Andrew the Elf - St. Jude - Varsity Spirit

For those that are just meeting me, my name is Andrew Dean. I am the owner/photographer of a photography company that works strictly in the spirit industry with cheerleaders and dancers around the world. When I’m not doing photography, I spend a lot of my time working as a childhood cancer and breast cancer awareness/research advocate. You might have seen me before and not even realized it. The crazy guy dressed as an Elf during Christmas flying around the country or dressed as a Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day asking for people to throw donations for St. Jude into my lucky hat. The wild guy dressed in a pink spandex onesie and pink boa posting photos on social media asking for donations to further breast cancer research. That’s me! Over the years I’ve built partnerships with Delta Airlines, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, but it didn’t all happen overnight.

Like many of you, my first introduction to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was at CHEERSPORT years ago when I was photographing Friday Night Live. I remember listening to the interviews athletes and peers would give about their experiences working with St. Jude and then to hear the interviews from the patients was even more powerful. Many of my friends that work for Varsity have had the opportunity to tour the hospital and shared their experiences with me. Seeing their faces brighten up and glow as they talked about St. Jude was powerful and got my mind spinning. I asked myself…

“What is something unique I can do to help?”

My goal in life has always been to make an impact in whatever I do and interestingly enough, the biggest impact I’ve been able to make is doing something that I originally thought would do nothing more than bring a little laughter and cheer to fellow travelers: Dress as an elf the week of Christmas and fly around the country. If people asked what I was doing, I’d simply give them a business card with a donation link and let them know I’m flying around spreading holiday cheer and raising money for St. Jude! I would also share the adventure on social media with friends hoping to grab some interest and hopefully some additional donations.

 

What started off as a fun little day-long trip with the goal of raising $1,500 has turned into an annual tradition raising $108,989 between the 6 annual 24-hour fundraisers. Add in #AndrewTheElf’s friend #AndrewTheLeprechaun, a much smaller fundraiser that has made a series of appearances on St. Patrick’s Day raising “Gold” for the children of St. Jude (Gold is also the color of childhood cancer awareness) and the total raised for St. Jude is over $125,000!

Each year, new challenges arise with these fundraisers and there are always bumps in the road, but finding ways to improve and continue on is similar to what we do in the cheer and dance industry as coaches and gym owners on a daily basis. We set short-term goals that lead up to our team’s end-of-season goal and push through until we accomplish our final goal. There are always setbacks along the way, but that’s part of life and what makes us stronger in the end. It’s one of those many life lessons we as coaches are able to share with our athletes and help them grow.

Andrew the Elf - St. Jude - Varsity SpiritWhen it comes to these fundraisers, there have been quite a few major challenges in the last couple of years. In March of 2020, the pandemic hit, and after months of planning the annual #AndrewTheLeprechaun fundraiser for St. Jude, the flight was canceled. Eight months later in December of 2020 after countless discussions, it was decided that the #AndrewTheElf flight would continue, but changes need to be made. At the time, flights were still nearly empty so relying on in-flight donations to achieve the lofty goals of years past would have been a failed plan. Instead, I encouraged fellow travelers to share the story on #AndrewTheElf with their friends on social media and moved the majority of my fundraising focus to social media as well. Luckily, it worked, and over $15,000 was donated during the journey. Months later as the world continued to open back up the #AndrewTheLeprechaun flight came back and raised over $5,200 in less than 20 hours, doubling any of the Leprechaun Flights from the past.

Then just a few short months ago, just weeks before the annual #AndrewTheLeprechaun fundraiser occurred, the words “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer” came right back into my life as we discovered my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for her second time after 15 years in remission. During our first conversation after her diagnosis, she shared with me how important it was that we continue raising money for these organizations and how she wanted the fundraisers to continue so during St. Patrick’s day this year while I flew around the country dressed as a Leprechaun raising money for St. Jude, she spent the day getting a series of tests ran to find out the best way to treat her breast cancer. “Now we get to see first-hand where all the money we’ve raised for cancer research has gone”, she said, and based on what we have seen so far, there have been incredible improvements during that short 15-year time.

Going forward, these fundraisers will continue to evolve as I continue to find unique ways to keep people engaged and willing to give, which is all part of the fun of any fundraiser!

Now that I have shared my story, my question is… what have YOU done to get involved?

Think about your gym. Say you have 100 athletes and decide that you want to Team Up for St Jude. If all your athletes participated with the goal of raising $100 per person you would be able to raise $10,000 for St. Jude.

Make it fun for your athletes and challenge each team to set a goal and see who raises the most per person! Want to take it a step further? Challenge another gym to get involved and do the same. It doesn’t need to be another gym in town, it could be a gym anywhere in the country! Not only are you doing something great for an incredible hospital, but you are teaching your athletes about the power of teamwork and doing something that will truly make a difference to the children at St. Jude.

 

Our industry is a special place, and we are all in this together. Join me this season to Team Up for St. Jude!

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