Student’s charitable work makes big impact on local organizations, leads to unforgettable experiences

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(Left photo) Heritage Middle School sixth-grader Emily Whitehead and Columbus Blue Jackets Captain Nick Foligno discuss Emily’s $1,525 donation to the Janis Foligno Foundation. (Right photo) Emily is interviewed for a segment to air on Fox Sports Ohio.




Emily Whitehead, a sixth-grade student at Heritage Middle School in the Westerville City School District (WCSD), has two passions in life: the Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ), and raising funds to support cancer charities. Little did Emily realize that those worlds would collide this year and lead to the opportunity to meet her hockey hero, CBJ Captain Nick Foligno.

Every summer for the past five years, Emily held a garage sale at which she sells her toys, cookies and lemonade. The money she raises, which to date totals $3,440, is donated to a charity that works toward cancer research or prevention. Emily first began this tradition when her grandfather was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; her beloved Papa passed away in 2017. Beneficiaries of Emily’s efforts have include the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Hoods for Heroes: Ohio Hood Initiative, and the Janis Foligno Foundation.

Nick Foligno was 22 years old and about to begin his third season playing for the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League when his 47-year-old mother, Janis, passed away from breast cancer in July 2009. Like Emily, Nick and his family took a negative, life-altering event and made something positive from it. They formed a foundation devoted to raising funds for the fight against cancer, while also honoring Janis’s legacy of giving back to her community.

The weekend of January 18, 2020, became one to remember when Hoods for Heroes honored Emily during the First Responder Face-off hockey game for her $1,000 donation to the Ohio Hoods for Heroes Initiative. Her donation provided life-saving, cancer-preventing hoods for eight local firefighters.

That same weekend, the CBJ invited Emily to a practice in recognition of her $1,525 donation to the Janis Foligno Foundation. The highlight of her day was spending time with Nick Foligno.

“You’re amazing – thank you so much for what you’re doing,” Foligno told Emily as he expressed his pride in her determination to help in the fight against cancer. “We’re going to take something bad and turn it into something really great!”

Emily also had the opportunity to sit behind the bench, meet players and coaches, visit the locker room, and give an interview that soon will air on Fox Sports Ohio.

“Of course, we’re really proud of her!” said Emily’s mother, Danielle Whitehead, a third-grade teacher at WCSD’s Annehurst Elementary School. “We were just amazed at how incredible this whole experience has been…She is still over the moon excited about it.”