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Elly's Angels, Elite Heat ready to cheer on participants at this weekend's Ride for Roswell

Every year the local foundation forged from loss organizes a huge group to cheer on riders.

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — Thousands of riders will participate in the annual Ride for Roswell this Saturday, and they will see some familiar faces — and bright blue shirts — cheering them on as they cross the finish line.

More than 100 cheerleaders from Elite Heat All Stars in North Tonawanda will hold signs, ring cowbells, and show off their stunt skills for the cyclists. It's their way of celebrating the accomplishments of riders who raise millions of dollars for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center — and something they've been doing through Elly's Angels since 2009.

Laura Voigt started the foundation as a way to give back to Western New York while honoring her sister's memory. Ellyce "Elly" Kausner, 24, died in the crash of Flight 3407 in February 2009.

As Voigt grieved and searched for answers in the days following that tragedy, some of the cheerleaders she coached at the time traveled to a huge competition in Atlanta where they showed their love and support on a national stage.

"These 17 kids took the [competition] floor, and they held up initials for my name, and they wore Elly's initials on their shoes," Voigt said. "Losing Elly and my world of cheerleading — which Elly was a cheerleader too — they were fused together forever at that point. By May 2009, we had created this idea that we wanted to just make something good out of this horrible thing."

Elly's Angels aims to develop strong, compassionate, and confident young women through mentorship and volunteering.

"To instill at a young age this idea that giving back to your community should be a normal part of your life, and [show them] the goodness it brings back to you," Voigt said.

Voigt said Elly's Angels and Elite Heat have sort of become one over the years because so many of her cheerleaders are getting involved and serving their community and learning compassion, not just cheerleading skills.

"It's a soul connection. It's not just an organization and an organization working together. They are completely bonded together," said Voigt.

The young ladies volunteer for Carly's Club, Special Olympics, and Adoption STAR, but one of their biggest showings is at the Ride for Roswell.

"I absolutely love doing it [especially] as somebody who comes from a family with people with cancer. It's just so heartwarming to see all of the kids," said cheerleader Elizabeth Tytka, 17.

"It's so nice to be a part of something and know that you're part of something bigger than just yourself. You're helping out your community. It really just is a really good feeling," said Vivian Schwock. "It really teaches us that there's so much more to life than just winning and just the little things in life, and it makes us appreciate everything that we have."

Voigt says her sister never missed a chance to celebrate the people that she loved, and volunteerism is a chance for her girls to show love and appreciation for people in the community.

"One person after another is riding by with tears in their eyes, with a person's name on their shirt because they're riding for a reason. The kids, it wakes them up. There's a greater purpose, and they feel a part of it. That is the most special thing about being part of the ride," Voigt said.

As a coach, and mom of three, Voigt says it's special to see her cheerleaders learn important lessons off the mat.

"Watching their lives be impacted because of my little sister who they never met, it's gift that's much greater than most people who have also lost have ever been able to receive. So I feel blessed," Voigt said.

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