Save Sebastian campaign thrives with skating, birthday donations, and a martial arts marathon

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Weeks of planning and preparation by students, teachers and faculty resulted in last year’s successful Project Alive week that raised nearly $100,000 to save Sebastian Estevez, the three-year-old son of Junior High English teacher Mrs. Jennifer Estevez.

The first-ever fundraising event of its kind at Heritage, Project Alive Week kicked off with every student in every English class writing letters to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to ask for support in finding a cure for MPS–II Hunter Syndrome, a degenerative disorder that affects only one out of approximately every 100,000 males. By the week’s completion nearly 2,000 letters were mailed out. While Mrs. Estevez and her family have not heard anything definitive about being invited on the show yet, Ellen’s co-executive producer did confirm receipt and thanked Heritage for writing them.

Efforts to raise money for Sebastian’s cause didn’t end there, though. Shortly after Project Alive week concluded, senior ice hockey player Jacob Usan organized an April 22 fundraiser at the Panther Ice Den in Coral Springs. A total of 81 people showed up to skate and show support for Sebastian, raising $243.

In May, seniors June Dong and Annalisa Romanenko held a fundraiser at the California Pizza Kitchen in Sawgrass Mall. Twenty percent of the proceeds raised by those who attended the event were donated directly to Project Alive, totaling $786.43. The following day members of AHS’ Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy hosted a raffle at the chain restaurant’s Sunrise, raising $285.

Many of Mrs. Estevez’s students took fundraising into their own hands as well. Freshman Claire Tyler “donated” her birthday to Project Alive. Rather than accepting gifts from her friends she asked each of them to donate to the organization, raising nearly $800. Other students went door-to-door in their own neighborhoods to spread awareness of Save Sebastian’s cause and collect donations.

Sebastian performs a kata with senior Madison Páez and her Sensei.

However, the efforts of senior Madison Páez stand out. Despite never having had Mrs. Estevez as a teacher, Páez has raised nearly $14,000. During her first fundraiser May 13 she invited friends and family members to donate money for her and her Sensei to perform a 100 Kata Marathon (a kata is a form in Goju-Ryu style of karate).

“We invited Sebastian and his parents to our dojo to watch us perform the 100 katas, and live streamed the event on Facebook,” Páez said.

Her second fundraiser Aug. 19 took place at CrossFit Siege in Miramar. The workout they did, a Hero-WOD, mimicked the grueling workouts done in honor of heroes, typically military veterans.

Dozens attended Madison Páez’s second fundraiser at Crossfit Siege. Participants wore purple in support of Hunter Syndrome research and did a workout called “Sebastian” that the coaches made up.


“Here, our hero was Sebastian,” Páez added.

The gym hosted three workouts in honor of Sebastian that day, raising a total of $2,200.

Currently, there are two upcoming events to promote Project Alive.

The St. Bonaventure Women’s Organization will host a boutique night Sept. 8. Tickets include dinner and are $35 by pre-sale only. Contact the parish administration at 954-236-7981.

After, the Lion’s Club of Hollywood will host a “Roaring Twenties” benefit gala Sept. 30 at the Hollywood Beach Marriott Resort. Tickets are $75 when purchased in advance. Contact Katherine Lizana at 954-865-5378.

Students and clubs are encouraged to continue hosting fundraisers to help Project Alive reach its goal of raising $2.5 million. According to Mrs. Estevez, students interested in helping raise money should make [the fundraising] their own.

“If you like to cook, host a dinner party. If you enjoy playing football, organize a tournament. Last year, many clubs raised money just doing what they were good at,” she said.

Every cent raised for Sebastian counts.

“People talk all the time about what the world is coming to and look at what the youth is doing these days,” Mrs. Estevez said, “but it’s like – wait a minute. This generation of kids is amazing – just look at what they’re doing.”

This year Sebastian will start PK-3. While he isn’t particularly excited about school itself, he’s glad to finally be in the same place as his mother and older brother Omar.

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