Recently I got a letter from Tommy Vella, a sophomore at Howell High School. This was no ordinary letter. It came from the heart.

Tommy Villa

Tommy wrote that his art teacher, Lizabeth Turtle "was fighting the fight we would not wish on our worst enemies." Mrs. Turtle has breast cancer.

Howell High School art teacher, Lizabeth Turtle

Tommy told me that Mrs. Turtle does more than just teach art; she changes lives.  She inspires her students to express themselves through their creativity and discover their own unique, style. Her enthusiasm is infectious and her optimism is unwavering.  Tommy said that Mrs. Turtle has been an inspiration during this very challenging time, leading her classes with kindness, positivity, and innovative teaching methods. When Tommy and Mrs. Turtle's students learned that she was battling breast cancer, they were compelled to help.

Tommy along with his brother Anthony and their friends have created a Relay for Life Team and they named it 'The Ninja Turtles' in honor and support of their beloved teacher.

In May 1985, Dr. Gordon “Gordy” Klatt walked and ran for 24 hours around a track in Tacoma, Washington, raising money to help the American Cancer Society with the nation’s biggest health concern: cancer.

Friends, family, and patients watched and supported him as he walked and ran more than 83.6 miles and raised $27,000 through pledges to help save lives from cancer. As he circled the track, he thought of how he could get others to take part. He envisioned having teams participate in a 24-hour fundraising event. The next year, 19 teams were part of the first Relay For Life event at the historical Stadium Bowl and raised $33,000.

This is proof that one person can make a difference.

Tommy and his team will be taking it to the track at Howell High School in Farmingdale Friday, June 11 at 4:00 p.m. The team has set a $2,000 fundraising goal. Let's help them get there!

You can make a contribution to Team Ninja Turtle by visiting For just $5 you can dedicate a Luminaria and they will light a candle in honor of a loved one who has had cancer or a Caregiver.

Relay For Life

Wise beyond his years, young Tommy closed his letter by saying:

The hardest battles yield the strongest soldiers, especially when we fight them together.

I applaud Tommy Vella and his classmates and friends. Hopefully, we can get together as a community and raise a bunch of money in honor of one of our amazing teachers, Mrs. Lizabeth Turtle.

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