TPN file photo
Bursts of blue, green and orange dotted the hilltops of Schenley Park on the morning of April 7, along with the hundreds of Pitt students and community members racing along them.
These runners were participating in the fourth annual Color Out Cancer 5K hosted by Pittsburgh Attacks Cancer Together. The student organization raises money to help fight various cancers, and has raised more than $55,000 in the last three years.
According to Shannon Madden, a sophomore neuroscience major at Pitt and a co-director for PACT, the event featured two types of runs — a normal 5K run and a color run. The color run is similar to the normal 5K, but there are stations dotted throughout the guided path where staff and volunteers throw a colored powder, representative of a particular type of cancer, at students.
The run is the largest event PACT hosts, according to Brandon Sciavolino, a junior neuroscience major and another co-director of PACT. More than 100 people signed up, and PACT spends a majority of the academic year planning the 5K while participating in other smaller events, like group volunteering trips to UPMC Children’s Hospital.
“Throughout the year we do a lot of volunteering events with the Hillman Cancer Center, but in terms of our big annual event, it’s the 5K run,” Sciavolino said.
He added that multiple organizations were involved in the planning process, including the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, PNC and other local companies. These organizations provide a portion of the funds, but the rest comes from fundraising, which directly goes toward the 5k run.
According to Brad Smertz, the founder of PACT and an alumnus from the class of 2018, the money that PACT receives is used for two main purposes. It covers the fees of hosting the 5K run, while the remaining portion is donated to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
“We do a lot of things for the race. everything that we raise goes for cancer research,” Smertz said. “So the seed money we get via [collecting money] from sports event fundraising, we use that to fund the race, and every single dollar after that goes directly to fund cancer research.”
Smertz said he started the club in 2014 due to his aunt’s battle with pancreatic cancer, which instilled a desire to be more proactive toward cancer awareness.
“I kind of had to make sure that I was doing something for my aunt and that she could know that I was doing something for her, which is why I am doing cancer research now,” Smertz said. “From our inception in 2014, we set up at the Activities Fair. We had a mini table among all the groups, and the interest that we were able to garner was inspiring. After our first year we ended up with 50 solid members, and now we have grown to 150.”
Smertz, while graduated from Pitt, still stays involved with PACT. In fact, for the 5K run, he flew in from San Francisco to take part in helping the organization with setting up for the run. He still mentors PACT by helping them with the logistics of management, but mostly, he allows the current executive board to make decisions regarding the organization.
The other co-founder, Ryan Gilbert, also an alumnus from the class of 2018, worked alongside Smertz to expand the organization. He attributes PACT’s success to the shared family experience that the organization fosters with it members.
“It feels more like a family to us than anything else … We wanted to make sure that people felt like they belonged. That’s how we gathered so many people,” Gilbert said.
But while the club is 150 members strong now, Smertz said the origins of the organization were rockier. PACT suffered challenges ranging from logistics, to marketing and to fundraising.
“I think that we ran into possibly ever single hurdle that you could possibly run into,” Smertz said. “There were so many things that we had to deal with that we kind of rolled with the punches along the way. We couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone here.”
But Gilbert said the founding members were eventually able to overcome these issues, including funding.
“Our first year, we told our adviser that we would raise $5,000, and they laughed at us,” Gilbert said. “And we just did that through fundraising.”
Gilbert added that PACT’s presence on campus and in the local community stems from the support of its members and their commitment toward a healthier city. He said many club members are dedicated to the cause because cancer has affected their lives or the lives of someone they know.
“The beauty of us being a student organization is that no one is paid, we don’t have staff, everything is volunteer straight from people’s heart,” Gilbert said. “I think that we just don’t have national support. Everything we do, it’s for others.”