At just about the same time every other morning, Carli O’Hara gets dropped off in front of Cohoes High School.
The 14-year-old student athlete is about a month into her freshman year, and each time she and her friends make their way into the building, it’s clear getting an education during a pandemic is a bit unusual.
“Yeah, it’s definitely different. It definitely changes my daily routine for sure,” O’Hara said.
Putting time-honored traditions on hold has become part of the new normal, but there’s one event on the calendar O’Hara was determined to celebrate no matter what.
“It’s definitely a day where I can’t sleep, but probably should get a lot of sleep because I wake up at 3:30 in the morning for this,” O’Hara said. “It’s almost like Christmas but in October.”
Carli was only 11 when she came up with the idea for Real Kids Wear Pink in 2017 after watching her father participate in the American Cancer Society’s local “Real Men Wear Pink” campaign.
“I saw what he was doing and I thought it was amazing but I was a little bit shocked there was nothing for kids to do,” O’Hara said.
Her grandmother is a Stage IV breast cancer survivor.
“She basically was given just six months to live and she credits her doctor and the research that helped her doctor for saving her life,” O’Hara said.
Over the first three years of Real Kids Wear Pink, Carli and her friends traveled from school to school on CDTA’s pink bus and raised more than $100,000. The ongoing spread of coronavirus forced her to change things up this year. Instead of visiting their classrooms in person, Carli hosted video chats to help teach local elementary school children about the mission.
“It was cool to see such a younger generation taking their part in the fight against breast cancer and being so excited about it,” O’Hara said.
Carli’s family, friends and teachers were the first to embrace the idea four years ago.
“I thought it was an amazing idea because of all the people I know who have been affected by breast cancer,” said Ava Hotaling, one of Carli’s friends and a sophomore at Cohoes.
Real Kids Wear Pink is now celebrated in 11 states and counting.
“I never thought it would grow into something like it is today,” Hotaling said.
Even though the coronavirus limited her plans, Carli made sure to keep the Real Kids Wear Pink tradition going strong and inspire the next generation of young leaders.
“I really didn’t believe kids could make such a powerful difference until I tried,” O’Hara said while doing a Zoom chat with a class of second graders. “I guarantee they will make their own impact on the world too.”