COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia teen Katie Kendall does not attend Hand Middle School, but just about every student there now knows her name thanks to her neighborhood friends.
On this school day, most of the students are wearing the color orange, and some of the seventh graders are selling bakes goods outside the cafeteria.
"Orange is the official awareness color for Leukemia," said 77th grader, Timothy Leonard. Leonard has been friends with Katie for years, and when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) back in March, he and the rest of her neighborhood friends became champions of her cause.
"She's a very strong person," said Coleman Bennett who's also in the 77th grade and one of Katie's neighborhood friends. "We all love her here."
Even those who have never met Katie Kendall have come to love the 13 year-old. While Katie attends Ben Lippen School, most of her neighborhood friends go to Hand and they are sharing her story with everyone they know.
Katie's best friend Julia Austin has told Katie's story to many including student government member Katie Hensley. After hearing Katie's story, Hensley wanted to do something more. With the help of the school's principal and teachers, Hensley created 'Katie Kendall Week."
"I got very touched by [her story]," said Hensley. "So I thought that we should make a change in Hand Middle School and help her."
So the kicked off the week with a fun drive to raise money in Katie's honor. They've worn purple one day (Katie's favorite color), and orange another day (for Leukemia awareness), and in the process they've raised the spirits of the Kendall family.
"These kids are amazing," said Rett Kendall, Katie's Dad. "The way they have supported our family and supported Katie… I want them to know how much we appreciate them."
It is support that has included hospital visits and new hairdos for Katie's guy friends.
"[Many of them] had that long, Justin Bieber, haircut and they all came over and didn't have any hair," said Katie smiling. "It was kind of funny…it was cool."
Katie, who usually has a long full head of hair, recently lost most of it through her chemotherapy.
"We wanted to [shave our heads] to show her that we're in this with her, and that we care about her" said Bennett.
If you take a look around Katie's room you'll see notes, pillows, even stuffed animals with T-shirts from her friends at Hand, her home school, Ben Lippen, her church community and just about everyone she knows.
"Because they have supported her so much, she has emotionally been okay," said Nancy Kendall, Katie's Mom. "And as a mom and dad, that helps us to emotionally be okay too."
The outpouring of love has helped take eyes off the word cancer and put all eyes on the word community. "We have often said that this is not about the Kendall's and it's not even about Katie," said Katie's dad. "If God isn't glorified, it ain't worth it-- and what these folks have shown us, is that goodness."
And there's lots a lot more goodness where that came from, "We love you Katie, you're awesome!" said Katie's friends at Hand in unison, "Stay Strong!!"
Katie's parents say because she attends a private school, her neighborhood friends have been a Godsend because much of her school friends are spread across the Midlands. They add, however, that they have simply been overwhelmed by the support from Katie's home school, their church and the entire community.
While Katie is in remission, her battle continues and she will treated for the cancer for at least the next two years.
The Hand Middle School students originally wanted to donate the funds they raised to Katie's family, but her family says they would love to see all of the money go to Camp Kemo so that several young cancer patients will have the opportunity to go to camp this summer. Katie is planning to attend camp with her brother.
To follow Katie's journey, you can visit her Caring Bridge sit at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/katiekendall/journal/1 .