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Gilbert 15-year-old chose to raise money for cancer over birthday gifts for a decade

Kai Martin, 15, began on his sixth birthday and has raised $32,000 over the past decade.

GILBERT, Ariz. — A Gilbert teenager has given up a decade of birthday gifts and raised more than $32,000 for cancer research because of it.

Kai Martin is a freshman at Gilbert High School. He turned 15 on March 5 and raised $5,100 in donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Kai’s philanthropy began on his sixth birthday. In the year leading up to that day, his stepfather Jared Bodnar had a scare with blood cancer.

“Thankfully he didn’t have it, so he’s fine,” Martin said.

The brush with cancer, however, caused 5-year-old Kai to learn about the various forms of the disease, and he asked his mother, Shannon Bodnar, what he could do about it. She told him most people raise money to fight cancer, and he decided that for his sixth birthday he wanted to do just that. Instead of gifts, he’d ask for donations.

“My first year my goal was $100 because that was about the biggest number I could think of,” Martin said. 

He ended up making the goal of $106 for his sixth birthday, but he raised around $500, and he said it made him feel so good he decided to do it again the next year and the year after that.

Every year Martin tells friends and family that he doesn’t want presents; he only wants donations.

“He said it’s my birthday and these are gifts for me but ultimately these gifts are for the people who are struggling with cancer,” Shannon Bodnar said.

After his stepfather’s cancer scare, blood cancer did find Kai Martin’s family. 

Jared’s mother and Kai’s paternal grandfather both died of different blood cancers within two years of each other. That strengthened Kai’s commitment to his fundraising efforts.

“If donating to cancer research can help other families not have to deal with what I had to deal with, then that makes a huge difference. That’s the main reason I do it,” Martin said.

Ms. Bodnar said she’s impressed with her son’s efforts each year.

“It really still blows me away. I get chills thinking about it,” Bodnar said.

March 5 has passed, but Kai Martin’s GoFundMe link is still active. If you’d like to donate, you can visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/kais-blood-cancer-boost to do so.

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