Belen girl organizes competition, donates $550 to UNM Cancer Center

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Inspired by family members' cancer diagnoses, 12-year old Reilly Holder, of Belen, wanted to do something about the disease.

"We need to find a cure," Holder says. "I'm not a doctor, but I can raise money for research."

And she did.

Reilly organized a team penning competition, a timed equine sport, that raised $550 on Oct. 21.

"We are so honored by Reilly's efforts. What she did is wonderful," says Dr. Cheryl Willman, University of New Mexico professor of pathology and medicine and director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center.

Dr. Willman accepted Reilly's donation on behalf of the UNM Cancer Center this afternoon.

Team penning is a timed equine sport in which a team of riders identifies, separates and pens specific cattle from a herd. The sport began as a way to sharpen an essential cowboy skill. The most skilled teams can find, separate and move their cattle to the pen in seconds, without even touching the animals.

To organize her event, Reilly coordinated the logistics with Rose Lee in Jarales, who donated the arena, and with Charlie Meyers of the Cattlemen's Livestock Auction in Belen, who donated 13 head of cattle.

Reilly then led a team of eight volunteers, including family members and friends, that prepared the arena, set up the pens and fencing, and hauled the cattle — young steers each weighing more than 500 pounds each. She is immensely thankful for the volunteers' help.

Reilly signed four teams of three riders each (she was on one team herself) and also collected donations. In addition to raising the money, Reilly's efforts won her a 4-H scholarship to Horse School at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds.

"The 4-H program is amazing," she says. "You learn responsibility and skills that will help you with your life."

Through 4-H, Reilly learned speaking and organizational skills and participated in many community service projects. These experiences have clearly helped her raise money for cancer research this year and will help her organize another event next year.

"You have to get yourself out there," she says.

Her mother, Christine, adds, "She's just 12 and in seventh grade. She planned and thought ahead and reached out to others — that's really amazing. Her father and I are so proud of her."