Even though she didn’t understand what was happening at age 4, Stevie Trujillo could see the toll Peter’s death was having on her family. Peter was Stevie’s grandfather. As the toddler sat on his lap, he would often talk about the future - taking her on fishing expeditions and a trip to the Grand Canyon when she was older, but those trips never happened. Following his cancer diagnosis, Peter died in 2008.
The experience left a lasting impression on young Stevie, who walked in her first Relay for Life in Watsonville at age 7, while carrying a photo of her grandfather holding her as a baby.
It was just a few years later that Stevie took up the torch, becoming more and more involved with the cause to find a cure. Her parents, Leticia Hallett and Jose, are also participants.
“The first two years my mom and I walked here,” Stevie said, “we were just kind of getting an idea of how it all worked. There wasn’t a big moment when I realized I wanted to do more. It was more like I was the only kid there, and everyone told me my personality was bigger than my years, so I started playing around with the idea of doing something to get more kids involved, and came up with Kidz Corner.”
Offered since 2014, Kidz Corner centers around activities for children. The bounce house, coloring, and bubble wands keep the children entertained so that parents can focus their attention on the annual fundraiser.
Stevie, 13, and an OCI seventh-grader, has carried a luminaria in memory of her grandfather every year during the Relay for Life event. But she doesn’t stop there. She’s also on the Relay for Life committee, and has been attending meetings for about three years.
“Stevie is active, vocal and truly an inspiration,” Hallett said. “Even though our team sign ups for the Insomniacs have decreased, Stevie and I want to continue to honor survivors, those who have passed on, and to help our young ones understand the reason behind Relay for Life.”
Speaking to those her age, Stevie added, “My mom was involved because cancer had a big impact on her life, so the door was open for me, but it’s not hard to get involved. Just put yourself out there. Go to meetings or come talk to me.”
In the future, Stevie hopes to turn Kidz Corner over to someone else so that she can turn her attention to other event activities. But this year, she won’t have to worry about that because, due to internal reasons, there will be no Kidz Corner. Given her dogged determination in helping to find a cure, Stevie said she may even work for the American Cancer Society one day.
Not one to leave any stone unturned, Stevie, an Oakhurst Boys & Girls Club member since 2013, asked if the club could help out in any way, and so volunteers will have access to the club’s facilities, if needed, during this year’s event.
“Stevie is a true testament of what’s it like to step up, and make a difference that will affect her community in a positive way,” Hallett added. “Big heart, humble and always willing to help. I’m beyond proud of who she is as a person and what I know she will continue to do.”
Mom isn’t alone in her admiration for this altruistic, resolute, and warm-hearted young girl.
Friend Makayla Jeffries, 13, who has attended Relay for Life several years, called Stevie a “strong leader and someone who paves the way for everyone else.”
Kylie Trinca, 12, another friend who helped Stevie the first couple of years with Kidz Corner, said she’s “responsible, does everything right, helps kids have fun ... and she’s pretty.”
“I have known Stevie since her first EMC Relay For Life, the last year it was at Wasuma School in 2013,” said Linda Maddox, survivor/caregiver co-chair. “I just knew her as one of the little kids on her mother’s team. When we moved the Relay to YHS, I couldn’t believe that this little girl had blossomed and become so confident. She had no problem speaking at a school assembly about her plans for Relay, and getting her fellow students involved. That year, she began the special events section for children, the Kidz’ End Zone. Since then, she has become even more confident and is one of our leaders. We all know Ms. Stevie will go far in this world. She has the heart and the smarts to be anything she wants to be.”
“My mom’s grandma died of cancer. My grandpa died of cancer, and I know many people whose families have been affected by cancer,” Stevie continued. “I want to help raise money to find a cure so that no one ever has to go through that experience again.”
Relay for Life
This year’s Relay for Life, with the theme of Musicals, will be held 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., May 20, at Oak Creek Intermediate School, 40094 Indian Springs Road in Oakhurst.
Event officials are trying to get as many cancer survivors to sign up as possible. The YHS drum line will lead survivors in the first lap around the track - the Survivor Lap - cheered on by other participants. All survivors are then treated to a free breakfast.
In the Caregivers Lap, those who have cared for someone with cancer walk a lap with the person they helped (if present).
During the candlelight Luminaria Ceremony at dusk, those who lost their battle, are currently fighting cancer, and those who have survived will be honored.
The 5,200 Relays for Life across the country raise a combined total of about $400 million each year. The American Cancer Society uses this money for programs and groundbreaking research.
Details: Curt Kuball, (559) 466-7624 or Curt.Kuball@cancer.org; Linda Maddox, (559) 760-2614.