Sandy Ramirez, an art teacher at Kemp Elementary, has used her talents since the school opened nine years ago to help fight cancer.
Her fundraising technique is unusual: She sketches on eight ceiling tiles, Kemp families bid on them, and the top bidders get to paint them as a family. On completion, the colorful tiles are switched with the white ones in the school's hallways.
"We kind of work our way down the hall each year," the 52-year-old said.
This year's annual ceiling-tile auction Dec. 9 raised $700. All the proceeds go toward the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life cancer research effort.
The reality of cancer in the school community and the pleasure of creating art as a family have ensured the continuation of Ramirez's tile auction at Kemp.
"The ceiling-tile idea has just taken off and become a tradition for the Kemp families," she said. "Kids love to paint and their parents love to paint, so it's a happy thing to watch them together."
Ramirez said she got the idea from a hospital visit during which she noticed how off-putting and dull the ceiling looked for bedridden patients.
"And I thought, 'If they (patients) just had pictures, this room wouldn't be quite as tough to be in," she said.
Ramirez emphasized that she isn't the only Kemp teacher who raises money for cancer research; all teachers pitch in, depending on their interests.
Once Kemp's Relay for Life funds are coupled with those from the rest of the Cobb County School District, donations equal about $1 million annually, said Elissa McCrary, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society's South Atlantic Division. That's the fifth-largest Relay for Life cumulative donation in the nation, she said.
"Most of the money is fairly small amounts … but done by a lot of people," McCrary said.
The efforts at other Cobb County schools include lemonade stands, bake sales and "dunking the coach" games, McCrary said.
McCrary described how almost everyone is personally affected by cancer in one way or another because of how widespread it is.
"It becomes very personal," she said, "and you want to do something about it."