A mass communications class organized a screening of the award-winning documentary, "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey," featuring the life's work of Turner Station native Kevin Clash, who provides the voice and personality of the iconic Muppet.
The money raised by the event—$7,000 and counting—will benefit the newly created Henrietta Lacks Scholarship Fund, named for another Turner Station resident who in death has helped advance medical research in ways she could never have imagined.
Mass communications professor Michael Walsh said the group hopes to raise at least $10,000, which will allow the fund to be endowed.
The scholarship fund will then help local students in their quest for a college education.
On Friday night, the event was about the celebration of Clash and his famous red puppet, and thoughts were far from the scholarships that will be made possible, thanks to nearly 400 people paying $8 a seat.
The documentary by Constance Marks chronicled Clash's life from childhood through the present.
Clash was drawn to puppets at a young age and was always curious about how they were constructed. He experimented with materials and techniques while building increasingly sophisticated puppets that he showcased in backyard shows.
His classmates stopped making fun of him for "playing with dolls" when he landed a job on a locally produced television show called "Caboose," which featured local personality Stu Kerr.
A shaggy red puppet known as Elmo was thrown in his lap one day by a frustrated puppeteer who told Clash, "See if you can get anything out of it."
Clash has been the talent and heart behind the loving and loveable Elmo ever since.
The scholarship fund was named for Henrietta Lacks, a young wife and mother who was living in Turner Station when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
While being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital, doctors harvested some of Lacks' cancer cells, which they were able to grow in their labs. It marked the first time that doctors had been successful in growing cells outside of the human body.
Named HeLa—the first two letters of the first and last name of the person from whom the cells came, as is the cell-naming tradition—the cells are still in use today around the world and they have been sold to researchers in many medical fields.
Neither Lacks nor any of her family members were aware the cells had been harvested. They also had no knowledge of the financial gain that came to others.
Her story was preserved recently by author Rebecca Skloot, who wrote The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The book was selected as this year's Community Book Connection, an initiative that has all students and faculty/staff members read the same book and then participate in activities that center around the book.
The timing was perfect, Walsh said, that the book selection coincided with the creation of the Lacks scholarship fund.
"The book is titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and we are hoping to raise at least $10,000 to endow the scholarship," Walsh told Patch last week. "We think it would be appropriate for the scholarship fund in her honor to be immortal as well."