Blood Ties: North Atlanta Students Raise Funds to Honor A Departed Cousin


Mady Mertens

A Cousin Remembered: Junior Evelyn Iwanicki and sophomore Tanner Adams hold a photo of their cousin Madeline Adams who died in 1992 at age 24, long before the current North Atlanta students were born. To honor the memory of their relative who died after a fight against blood cancer, the first cousins spearheaded a fund-raising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and in the process raised more than $100,000 to fight the disease that took their relative’s life.

The memory of a long-departed cousin honored. The smashing of a fund-raising goal achieved. Both of these realities reached their dramatic convergence in the recent charity fund-raising feat led by two North Atlanta High School students. 

And for junior Evelyn Iwanicki and sophomore Tanner Adams, the journey toward raising funds for a local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society meant the pair have been among the most prolific fund-raisers among metro-Atlanta wide student teams.   

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to combating and raising funds in the fight against blood cancers. For Adams and Iwanicki the inclination to help the organization is something deeply personal. In growing up, the two – who are first cousins – were frequently told stories about an older cousin of theirs named Madeline Adams. The Atlanta native died in 1992 from Leukemia at age 24, many years before the North Atlanta students were born.  

In September of the current school year, Adams and Iwanicki set out to raise funds for the charity to remember their still-cherished relative who would be 53 if she was alive today. “We never got the chance to meet her, but we have seen the profound impact she has had on our family,” said Iwanicki .

Adams said she grew up hearing her father speak of Madeline’s grace that she showed in the face of a lethal disease that struck her in the prime of young adulthood. “He would describe to me how she never lost her sense of fight and that her big objective was inspiring those around her,” Adams said. “And that’s held true for all these years because she was at the heart of what Evelyn and I did.” 

The pair of students held regular meetings with their team members which consisted of 29 students from high schools across Atlanta. At the onset of their campaign, they set the ambitious goal of $53,000. To raise funds, Adams and Iwanicki reached out to family members, friends and neighbors, all the while encouraging others on their team members to do the same. Their efforts netted contributions from more than 650 individual donors. The pair also coordinated two campaign-related “spirit nights” at two local fast food restaurants where they solicited funds: One event was held at the Chick-fil-A on Howell Mill Road and another was held at the Willy’s franchise on Howell Mill Road. Both events expanded fund-raising opportunities and gave the cousins more time to let the broader world know about Madeline’s courage from nearly 30 years prior.  

Turns out their original goal – very ambitious when announced – turned out to be a bit on the modest side. After their campaign concluded the pair had raised more than $100,000 for the cancer-fighting charity. 

The pair said all along they were motivated by the recollection – even the spirit – of their departed cousin. “She was certainly with us every step of the way, and we both really felt that way,” Adams said. 

Across metro Atlanta, this year LLS had 34 student teams raising funds as part of the organization’s “Students of The Year” campaign. Among these teams, only four raised more than $100,000. Adams and Iwanicki were greatly assisted by their friends, fellow North Atlanta students, leaders who included sophomores Elizabeth Ackerman and Juliette Holzworth, along with juniors Emma Adamson, Isabel Carter and Ben Holzworth. To assist their friends in their meaningful campaign, each raised more than $5,000. “It meant so much to us that our friends pitched in like they did to honor our cousin,” said Iwanicki. “That just made this whole journey even more meaningful.” 

The exact amount they raised was a jaw-dropping $100,053. The pair said the specific amount was dramatically meaningful to them, as 53 matches the age Madeline would be were she alive today. “We were initially amazed that we hit that specific figure,” Adams said. “But then we thought: No, that makes perfect sense. She’s with us.”

The two raised needed funds to combat blood-borne cancers. And the fund-raising efforts they took upon themselves proves that blood ties — ties that stretch from generation to generation — are certainly the strongest of all.