'Part of something bigger:' Local teen competes for Student of the Year

Laynie Buli, 15, rides her bike as part of a fundraiser she organized in September to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The teen is preparing a bigger fundraising project for the group starting next month.

After Laynie Buli lost her great-grandfather to leukemia in 2008, she was determined to find a way to honor him and help others suffering from the same disease.

“Ever since he passed away, I wanted to be a part of something bigger to help raise money, so families don’t have to go through all of it by themselves,” the 15-year-old Valley View student from Jessup said.

So when her mother, Megan Gillette, told her about a nationwide scholarship competition held by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Laynie found her calling.

The competition allows students to apply as individuals, be nominated or apply in teams of two to three students. Participants must raise money for the foundation during a six- to eight-week fundraising campaign. The student who raises the most money wins a scholarship and is named Student of the Year.

Gillette, 36, had considered competing in LLS’s “Woman of the Year” competition in 2019. Instead, she shared the information for the Student of the Year program with her daughter.

“I didn’t really think she would try to do it. We talked about it, and she never brought it up again. Then, suddenly, she said she was going to do it,” said Gillette.

Before fully committing, Laynie decided to host a bike fundraiser on Sept. 4, World Leukemia Day, to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Through social media, Laynie advertised her event, collected donations and opened it up to other riders for free.

The event raised around $900 and garnered press coverage from local news stations. Buoyed by the event’s success, Laynie then dove headfirst into the Student of the Year competition and everything that it entails.

To make the process easier, nominated students can encourage community members, friends and family to join their team where they can also help raise money for the campaign.

“I have a little over 10 people on my team now. I’m talking to a lot of people, trying to get them to become part of my team and seeing what they can do,” said Laynie.

In the months of January and February, Laynie has 11 events planned, and a daily giveaway for each day in February. The events include “Dine and Donate” nights at local restaurants, including Marilake Winery in Childs, the Moon Tavern in Dickson City and Texas Roadhouse in Dickson City, as well as a pasta night, Super Bowl pool and a chili cookoff. To learn more about the events, visit the HOPE for Leukemia Facebook page.

“I saw what everyone else throughout the years has been doing,” she said. “I started by going to local businesses, friends that knew people, family that knew people, and worked to set up events. All of the businesses were very open-minded and able to help me.”

Laynie and her family have also hosted craft shows and attached links on their social media pages for those who wish to donate before the competition starts as well.

While this process can be overwhelming, Laynie loves every minute of it.

“It’s definitely stressful to find people that are willing to help you throughout the entire process, but it’s really fun and great to be a part of something,” she said.

Ever since joining the campaign, Gillette has watched her daughter come out of her shell.

“It’s changed her a lot, and it’s nice to see her grow,” she said. “She’s always been very shy, so this has definitely grown and changed as a person. She’s definitely surprised us.”

Outside of her involvement for Student of the Year, Laynie is involved in basketball, cross country, biology club, Leo club, student council and plans to audition for a school play.

After high school, Laynie has dreams of attending Johns Hopkins University with the goal of becoming a geneticist, where she would study DNA and work to find cures for diseases.

Because of her plans for college, Gillette believes that Laynie’s participation in

Student of the Year is stems not only from her great-grandfather, but also from her interest in genetics.

“She’s always wanted to go to school for genetics,” Gillette said. “It’s more than a campaign for her. It’s more than a college scholarship for her. It’s not just a title. This is what she wants to do after school.”

Laynie also sees this as the opportunity to make a difference and help those battling leukemia and lymphoma – and their families.

“It holds a great, big title of being a part of something I probably wouldn’t have been a part of six months ago,” she said. “It would feel great to win it and actually do something like this.”