Cambria helps an ailing teacher

jthompson@thetribunenews.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Shannon Jackson staffs the ticket table at the ‘PK Fight Like a Girl’ spaghetti dinner on Jan. 15 at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building. The three-hour event raised nearly $17,500 for Pam Kenyon, a 21-year Coast Union High School teacher who is battling colon cancer.

JAY THOMPSON — jthompson@thetribunenews.com

There was plenty of love on display at a fundraiser for Coast Union High School teacher and volleyball coach Pam Kenyon. It was colored pink and blue and green.

Pink cyclamen blooms in blue pots decorated each table. Students were wearing pink — her favorite color — and blue ribbons, the symbol of the advanced colon cancer she has battled since November.

Kenyon’s siblings were decked out in it, and helium-filled pink and blue balloons adorned the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building where the “PK Fight Like a Girl” spaghetti dinner was held Jan. 15.

Green was even more apparent at the end of the night as nearly $17,500 was raised at the three-hour event, which featured entertainer Jill Knight.

Greenbacks filled plastic donation jars and a steel cash box. To friends and family members, and some in attendance who knew of Kenyon only through her health crisis, the cash was more than a gift; it was a giant hug of support from nearly 1,100 people who bought dinners and participated in a silent auction featuring 45 items.

They were a cross-section of Cambria that included moms in minivans to seniors in sedans, who picked up 750 to-go dinners; former colleagues; her Coast Union and Santa Lucia Middle School students and their parents; as well as former students from the 1990s who returned with their own kids in tow.

“I’ve been in the community for 25 years, and she’s been our teacher for my five kids, from my 31-year-old all the way down to our 11-year-old,” said Monica Raethke, who began organizing the event with restaurateur Steve Kniffen in early December. “When we heard about Pam, we were just broken.”

Kenyon, 50, of Templeton has long ties to the pines. She’s a Coast Union alum (Class of 1981) who began teaching there in 1993. Surgery last fall revealed a large tumor, said her sister, Roche Nystrom, Cuesta College’s women’s volleyball coach.

Nowhere was Kenyon’s absence more obvious than on the Broncos volleyball team that advanced to a dramatic second-round showdown with Santa Clarita Christian in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5AA playoffs.

On Nov. 14, just weeks into her treatment, the Broncos fell behind 2-0 before tying the best-of-five match, 2-2. In the tiebreaker, Coast Union traded points before falling 17-15 to the Cardinals.

“We were playing for PK,” recalled Mackenna Perryman, a 17-year-old Broncos utility player, who was part of the setup crew at the dinner. “That was something we definitely did and thought about the entire time. We just wanted to make her proud.”

Kenyon was very proud of their efforts, observed Darcy Dobrec, a Coast Union agriculture and ASB leadership teacher who helped coach the team during the playoff run.

“It didn’t matter what the score said,” she added. “They won that night. I know that Pam knew it — everybody else knew it. They were playing for something bigger than themselves. It was a direct reflection of their coach and mentor. It was really powerful.”

And so was the fundraiser, added Kniffen of the Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant, who helped coordinate the food portion of the dinner. His crew of 50 volunteers included about 30 Coast Union students, many who wore pink and blue.

“To me, the essence of what’s going on here is really the community is coming together,” he said. “Everybody wants to help. Everybody wants to do something. They don’t know what to do. When you hold a function like this, it really allows everybody to feel like they’re doing something and contributing to the whole.

“And that’s what I told the kids in the little pep talk (before the dinner). By doing this, the community can come together and make things better.”

Kenyon was excited about the event, but sorry she could not attend and show her appreciation, Nystrom said.

The turnout amazed family and organizers alike.

“All the support and love that people show just shows what kind of person she is,” added Dobrec, who carpools with Kenyon. “She is such a strong impact on this campus and in this community. I think that’s so awesome for her to have all this support around her.

“That’s what’s going to help her get back in the classroom and get back on the volleyball court where she belongs.”

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