What began as a nagging cough four months ago turned into devastating news for UNC Pembroke alumni James and Jessica Worriax and their 16-year-old son, Jacob.
Tests revealed a tumor in Jacob's chest. On New Year's Eve 2021, doctors diagnosed Jacob with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He spent nine days in the hospital, including several days in the intensive care unit.
Jacob is undergoing chemotherapy, which resulted in significant weight loss.
"Mentally, he is doing really well," James Worriax said. "He is handling it much better than I would have at his age."
Since his diagnosis, the family has made weekly—and sometimes twice per week—trips from their home in Wilmington to UNC Medical Center for treatments and appointments. Soon, word spread to UNCP where Jacob's sister, Jayden, is a sophomore.
Organizers with Hok Nosai––a greek council that includes American Indian fraternities and sororities at UNCP—held a benefit golf tournament on April 30, which raised $17,000––one of the largest one-day fundraisers sponsored by a student group in the history of the university.
Eighteen teams comprised of 72 golfers participated in the Pine Crest Country Club tournament. Several of Jacob's extended family also came out to show their support. James and Jayden spoke to the crowd, thanking everyone for their contributions.
"We were shocked by the turnout," said James, a Pembroke native and family physician in Wilmington. "It was pretty amazing."
Hok Nosai includes the Beta chapter of Alpha Pi Omega Sorority and the Alpha chapter of Phi Sigma Nu Fraternity. Phi Sigma Nu member Sonny Walton is credited with spearheading the event and ensuring its success.
"Raising $17,000 is unheard of for an undergraduate chapter," Walton said. "But like I told the group that day, if we work together as a team and not underestimate ourselves, we can make this happen.”
Worriax never imagined his family would benefit from an organization he helped found 26 years ago. His wife, Jessica, is a charter member of the Beta chapter of Alpha Pi Omega.
"It was cool because my wife and I were thinking back to when we were two fledging chapters and how far they have come," he said. "We talked about how much they have grown and all the good they are doing for the community.
"It makes you feel good when you see how the members have kept the ball rolling and making a difference in the community."
Hok Nosai President Kendra Locklear said rallying to support a community member or alumni in need aligns with the organization's mission.
"We want to be engaged with the community as much as possible, whether giving back to alumni or our elders," Locklear said. "The event was very successful. We were pleased with the results. Being there for one another is what we stand for."