Metro-East Living

A Collinsville student group helped when her mom died of cancer. Now she’s giving back.

Faith Liljegren will be saying goodbye to friends and teachers when she graduates from Collinsville High School in May, but she’ll also be ending her involvement with a student organization that helps District 10 residents in need and one that has played a huge role in her life.

KAHOKstrong helped her family with expenses when her mother, CHS math teacher and basketball coach Kelley Liljegren, was undergoing breast-cancer treatment. Liljegren died in 2017 at age 45.

“Just seeing how much it helped my family and how important it was to us and the love and support and people coming together ... That almost meant more to me than the money,” said Faith, 17. “You feel like you’re not alone.”

The organization was featured last month on Fox 2 News on KTVI Channel 2. Meteorologist Chris Higgins interviewed Faith and co-sponsor Jacob Post, a CHS special-education teacher.

“When we raise money, it stays in the district,” Post told Higgins during one of the TV station’s Bus Stop Weather segments. “There’s no money going out.”

Faith has been a member of KAHOKstrong all four years at CHS. Her older sister Hanna was one of its founders. Older brother Luke also was involved.

KTVI Fox 2 News meteorologist Chris Higgins interviews KAHOKstrong co-sponsor Jacob Post and officer Faith Liljegren as part of his Bus Stop Weather segment last month. KTVI Fox 2 News

The organization’s roots go back to 2013, when CHS staff members sold T-shirts and wristbands to help family and consumer-science teacher Sarah Stolcis travel to Boston to participate in a medical study. Stolcis later died of lung cancer at age 30 even though she wasn’t a smoker.

KAHOKstrong became a student organization the following year. Since that time, it has raised money mainly through pink-out sports games, 5-kilometer races and glow-bingo nights.

“If something big happens, like a student has a house fire, we’ll actually organize a fundraising effort specifically for that,” said co-sponsor Toni Geisen, a CHS social-studies teacher.

KAHOKstrong has paid for rent, utilities, medical bills, shoes for nursing and P.E. students, backpacks and other needs. It also does a Christmas gift drive each year.

On Oct. 18, the organization raised $3,500 by selling T-shirts and raffle tickets at a pink-out football game. Proceeds will go toward its Kelley Liljegren Memorial Scholarship.

“Over the years, we’ve donated close to $70,000 in the form of scholarships and donations,” Geisen said.

Kelley Liljegren, center, is shown on her last family trip with, left to right, daughter Faith, son Luke, daughter Hanna and husband Mike before her death in 2017. Provided

The former Kelley Davis was an athlete at Carlinville High School and Illinois College. She earned a master’s degree at Sangamon State University and married Mike Liljegren, now a CHS math teacher.

Kelley Liljegren taught at Palatine High School before joining the CHS staff in 2003. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the following year, when Faith was a toddler.

“The doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of living, but she beat cancer,” Faith said. “And then, 10 years later, it came back. She had a relapse. It spread to her liver. She kept fighting, but they ran out of treatment options. Nothing was working.”

Faith plans to attend Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau next fall on soccer and academic scholarships and study business. She wants to become an interior designer and “flip” houses.

KAHOKstrong has about 50 student members. Its next big fundraiser is a glow-bingo night with a silent auction on Jan. 11 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5691 in Collinsville. For more information, visit the Facebook page.

“The idea is to help our community, Kahoks helping Kahoks,” Geisen said. “It’s there at a moment’s notice. People have been so generous, (needs can usually be met) immediately unless something has to be ordered.”

Members of the KAHOKstrong student organization at Collinsville High School pose for a photo during their glow-bingo fundraiser in November of 2018. Provided
Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.