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Operating Engineers 324 and partners help raise more than $135,000 in fundraiser for fight against pediatric cancer

HOWELL, Mich. – Operating Engineers 324 and 33 construction industry partners raised $135,000 in the fight against childhood cancer at the annual American Cancer Society’s Big Dig fundraiser on Saturday, July 15. OE324 hosted more than 500 children and their families at its training complex in Howell, where the kids had a firsthand look at the construction industry, including through interactive hands-on experience with large heavy machinery often used in the construction industry.

Hosting hundreds of kids during the Big Dig event and seeing their eyes light up when they got to experience working with heavy equipment and seeing how we build awesome monuments across the state, that’s a truly priceless and special moment for all of us,” said Lee Graham, Operating Engineers 324 Labor Management Executive Director. “We have an amazing construction industry in Michigan. The Big Dig was a really special day.”

“Supporting events like the Big Dig means giving back to the community and doing the mission of good work. Operating Engineers 324 is grateful for the opportunity to support children, help fight childhood cancer and bring hope to families.”

At the sold-out event, the hundreds of children – including pediatric cancer patients – spent time in the driver’s seat operating equipment often used at construction sites, all under the watchful eye of certified construction professionals who volunteered their time and expertise. The children also took part in construction-themed crafts, demonstrations, and activities.

More than 30 pieces of equipment and heavy machinery such as excavators, pavers, lifts, cranes, rollers and loaders were on hand at the Big Dig. The experience also helped the children see how science, technology, engineering and math lessons from the classroom, or STEM, can be applied in real life. Children attending the Big Dig received T-shirts, hard hats and other gifts from the Big-Dig’s construction industry partners.

For Ethan Vanlerberghe, a project manager at Michigan CAT who volunteered at the registration tent, cancer is personal. At age 17, Vanlerberghe was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkins lymphoma. Midway through traditional treatment, Vanlerberghe’s medical team used a new state-of-the-art radiation therapy that was more powerful yet gentler on the body. The device was available to patients like Vanlerberghe because of donations to cancer care.

“I want those who donate their time to events like the Big Dig to know how much it means to me and kids who are going through cancer now just as I did,” said Vanlerberghe, who is now cancer free. After his treatment, Vanlerberghe went on to intern at Michigan CAT and in April, was made a full-time employee.

He said: “My treatment and the treatment of countless young people is possible because of the generosity of donors and volunteers who give up a weekend to make events like the Big Dig happen. I was blessed with the chance to overcome cancer and pursue a full and meaningful life.”

“I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than being with hundreds of excited kids, showing them all the fun things we do in construction – and fighting cancer in the process,” said OE324 President Ken Dombrow. “On behalf of OE324, we are so grateful for our partnership with the American Cancer Society, and to all our industry partners who support the Big Dig. We’re hopeful that partnerships and events like the Big Dig can help us give hope to kids with cancer and their families.”

LeeAnn McDowell, ACS’s associate director of developments, thanked all the partners of the Big Dig for their support.

“The American Cancer Society is so grateful to our terrific partners in Michigan’s construction industry for consistently stepping up and opening their hearts for young patients battling cancer,” McDowell said. “Thanks to events like the Big Dig, the men and women in Michigan’s construction field are helping bring hope, cures and comfort to pediatric patients.”

Volunteers from OE324 and 33 partners of the Big Dig fundraiser participated, with operating engineers and other construction professionals helping the children operate machinery on OE324’s 600-acre campus.

The Michigan Big Dig fundraiser is now in its fifth year. Funds from the event will go toward supporting pediatric cancer research, education and advocacy. Cancer is the leading disease-related cause of death among U.S. children and teens ages 1-19. For more information, go to: