People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla High student leads fundraising effort for cancer research

Ava Grudko runs a club at La Jolla High School to raise money for cancer research and treatment.
(Provided by Ava Grudko)

Ava Grudko runs Race to Rescue, a club that participates in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Student Visionaries of the Year campaign.


La Jolla High School senior Ava Grudko is hoping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research and treatment, and there’s no finish line in sight for her community service.

Grudko runs Race to Rescue, a club of LJHS students participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Student Visionaries of the Year campaign to raise money for blood cancer research and treatments.

SVOY is a service and leadership program that aims to foster entrepreneurial and communication skills and community service. The campaign runs a yearly competition among high school students around the country to raise money for LLS.

This year, the seven-week campaign runs through Friday, March 17, and Grudko hopes the 15-member club will surpass its goal to raise $20,000 toward the SVOY goal of $500,000.

Last year, Grudko and the club, which then had nine members, raised more than $22,500, placing third in the SVOY competition.

This is Ava Grudko's third year participating in Race to Rescue.
(Provided by Ava Grudko)

To raise money, club members create a contact list and send out personal emails weekly asking for donations, Grudko said. They also approach La Jolla businesses for contributions.

Though funds can be collected only during the seven weeks of the campaign, Grudko said she has organized meetings with club members since the start of the school year to ensure “people have enough time to compile their contact lists and understand what’s expected of them as team members.”

“We want people to be committed and help us come up with ideas,” she said, such as an upcoming bake sale at the high school or a recent table at the La Jolla Open Aire Market.

Grudko joined Race to Rescue at La Jolla High as a sophomore. She served as the group’s historian before becoming co-president last year and running it on her own this year.

“I always like to be involved in clubs at school,” Grudko said.

“That I have the power to change even a few people’s lives by raising money, by being an activist for this cause … that’s a really powerful thing.”

— Ava Grudko

Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, her eldest cousin — a Los Angeles resident who Grudko said is her role model — was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Frustrated by pandemic restrictions on visits and communication, Grudko and her family were unable to “help her through this long journey,” beyond the medical advice of her father, Ken Grudko.

“I needed something as an outlet,” Ava Grudko said. She joined Race to Rescue on the invitation of a friend.

“This is a way that I can give to this community in a more direct way and show my support for my cousin,” she said.

Her cousin’s cancer is now in remission, but Grudko continues to strive to help others, noting that she spends hours every week organizing the club’s efforts.

“It really is driven by [my] deep desire to help people,” she said. “I just want to make the world a better place.”

Grudko said the SVOY campaign is a way to spread awareness for cancer research.

“We’re … making a difference,” she said. “And that I can do that when I’m a student [and] not even an adult yet, that I have the power to change even a few people’s lives by raising money, by being an activist for this cause … that’s a really powerful thing.”

Grudko also is secretary of La Jolla High’s Key Club, which promotes leadership through volunteerism, taking on several community service projects.

She’s also a Girl Scout and is heavily involved in the school’s theater department.

She said she often relies on the leadership skills she’s honed in Race to Rescue.

“You’re building leadership,” she said. “You’re building commitment. You’re understanding what it takes to make change in the world, even if it’s on a smaller scale. And I think that’s really good for growth as a person.”

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