District 39 Educational Foundation was honored to bestow its eighth Distinguished Citizen Award to Sydney Martin.
Sydney started her rock necklace business when she was only 8 years old, using rocks found on the beach of Lake Michigan. She turned them into necklaces that family and friends loved. Sydney never realized these simple rock necklaces would impact her life in such a big way.
In September 2007 when she was 10 years old, after a lesion was discovered in her cheekbone, Sydney was diagnosed with Langerhan’s Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), a rare blood disease. After a biopsy confirmed Sydney’s LCH diagnosis, she underwent surgery having a port implanted in her chest to receive six months of chemotherapy with high doses of steroids. When she started her weekly treatments family and friends wore their rock necklaces she’d made to show support for her ordeal. They called them Syd Rocks. It was then that Sydney realized she could sell the rock necklaces raising money for research to find a cure for her disease.
Fortunately Sydney, now 18, has been doing well since she stopped treatment, but many other children do not respond to current treatments, have serious side effects, or do not survive. LCH is an orphan disease so it receives very little government funding for research. The cause of the disease is unknown and it is estimated that LCH affects one in 200,000 U.S. children each year.
In 2012, Sydney and her family created the Giving Rocks Foundation, a non-profit organization established to fund research projects for LCH and pediatric cancer. Syd Rocks necklaces are sold online (www.sydrocks.com) and in retail stores throughout Chicagoland. This summer, Syd Rocks was one of only 10 non-profit organizations in the Lolla Cares program at the 2014 Lollapalooza festival. Generating considerable buzz about the necklaces more than 400 were given out to festival goers through donations. Over the past 7 years, Sydney has helped raise more than $340,000 for LCH and pediatric cancer through fundraising events and the sale of necklaces and other Syd Rocks merchandise.
Despite a busy high school schedule, Sydney is active in the community through her fundraising efforts. She was a keynote speaker at the Children’s Miracle Network Annual Dinner and at the Lurie Children’s Hospital MRIC Board meeting; she has spoken at many school and hospital fundraisers, and has been a participant at Histiocytosis Association of America (HAA) annual dinners, the Chicago Dance Marathons and more. She is also a Kid’s Advisory Board Member at Lurie’s Children’s Hospital as a Patient Representative.
As one of the Founders, Directors and the key Spokesperson for Syd Rocks, Sydney has been featured in numerous city and regional publications, and interviewed locally by NBC5, WGN and Fox Chicago. As a senior at New Trier High School, Sydney is Captain of the school Dance Team and enjoys yoga, scuba diving, surfing, fashion design and of course necklace making. Sydney plans to attend college in the fall.