Junior Julia Clayton leads second annual Pancakes for Parkinson’s fundraiser

Pancakes for Parkinsons will be held Mar. 16 at 11:30 a.m. in the cafeteria. Graphic courtesy Julia Clayton.

Pancakes for Parkinson’s will be held Mar. 16 at 11:30 a.m. in the cafeteria. Graphic courtesy Julia Clayton.

By Ally Navarrete

Update: Pancakes for Parkinson’s raised about $1600 this year. 

When junior Julia Clayton applied to join the leadership class at the end of her freshman year, she had one goal in mind: start a fundraiser at Whitman to support research for Parkinson’s disease. Two years later, Clayton and the SGA are preparing to host the second annual Pancakes for Parkinson’s event. It will be held Mar. 16 at 11:30 a.m. in the cafeteria.

At the breakfast, students pay a flat $10 fee for all-you-can-eat pancakes made fresh by members of the SGA. All of the proceeds will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. Last year, the event partnered with Whitman Idol and raised $1,600.

Proceeds from Whitman Idol will be going to Children’s National this year. To make up for lost funds, Clayton added an option for students who can’t attend Pancakes for Parkinson: donating through Venmo or a check. Checks addressed to “Katherine Young – Parkinson’s” can be made payable to “Walt Whitman High School” and sent to the school. To donate through Venmo, pay “juliarclayton” with the subject “pancakes.”

Clayton’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s—a nervous system disorder that affects movement, causing muscle stiffness and tremors—when Julia was about ten years old. The disease is also progressive, meaning symptoms grow worse over time.

“It’s been really hard on my family,” Clayton said. “We’re missing kind of a mom figure; she’s there, but not as much as a caregiver. But we get through, and my mom is so strong. She’s the best.”

High schools and colleges across the country have been hosting pancake breakfasts for years to raise money to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s research. The Foundation was started in 2000 by actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991. The organization is dedicated to finding a cure through fundraising.

The University of Virginia held the first pancake breakfast benefiting the Foundation in 2004, and it was adopted as a national fundraiser in 2007. UVA alone has raised over $346,000 from the event in the last 10 years.

Aware of Clayton’s interest in starting a fundraiser for Parkinson’s research, former SGA vice president Elliot Kelly (‘18) presented the idea of hosting Pancakes for Parkinson’s at Whitman to Clayton after hearing about its success at UVA. Like Clayton, Kelly has a personal connection to the event—his grandfather had Parkinson’s.

“Everyone has different charities that they like to support,” Kelly said. “I thought it was a great idea because Parkinson’s is a topic that’s important to me, and I know it’s also important to Julia.”

Matt Clayton (‘17)—Julia’s brother—fundraises for Parkinson’s in college along with Kelly through Duke University’s Pancakes for Parkinson’s club, which hosts three to four events per year. Matt is on the executive board for the event, and he serves as the head event planner. He found out about Julia’s decision to bring the fundraiser to Whitman when he returned home for spring break last year.

“I was definitely both proud and excited that she was passionate about making the same impact that I wanted to make at Duke and for the Parkinson’s community,” he said.

Julia is a member of the Charity Month Committee for SGA. Because Pancakes for Parkinson’s was a new event last year, she organized it alone. She did an exceptional job, despite only being a sophomore, Kelly said.

This year, Julia had help: a committee with six other leadership students across all grade levels helped her buy supplies and make flyers and banners to hang around the school. A few people also worked to coordinate the event—which falls on the same day as the mulch sale fundraiser for the Whitman All-Sports Booster Club—with athletic director Andy Wetzel.

Committee members have noticed Julia’s dedication to the event.

“Julia’s really passionate about this project,” senior Amanda Sherman said. “She took leadership both this year and last year when it was piloted, and she’s done a great job in making it a successful event.”

Even though Julia will graduate next year, she hopes the SGA will continue the event after she leaves.  

“The committee has a couple of sophomores on it on purpose, so that when I leave they’ll be able to take it over,” she said. “It’s a well-liked event and it’s not that hard to plan, so I’m hoping it’ll keep going.”