By Jill Keppeler, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It’s been a long road for Patrick Connolly.
When the Town of Tonawanda boy was diagnosed in March 2009 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he started treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and knew immediately that he wanted to help others in his situation by taking part in the annual Ride for Roswell.
Now, three years later, the third-grader spent Friday at Field Day with his classmates at St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore, celebrating his final chemotherapy treatment, his upcoming third Ride for Roswell — and the $2,558.47 donation raised by his fellow students for “Team Patrick.”
Patrick said he doesn’t want anymore kids to get cancer, and he wants to support the hospital where he’s been treated.
“It’s a really good place,” he said, “and the nurses are really nice.”
St. John the Baptist teacher Linda Garrity said the money for the annual Roswell fundraiser was raised through the “Pennies for Patrick” change collection (which scored more than 300 pounds of coins this year), bake sales, a theme basket raffle (for which prizes totaling more than $800 were donated), entry fees for the school’s KidBiz entrepreneurial project and a number of neighborhood lemonade stands.
All those pennies have added up — counting this year’s donation, students and staff have raised more than $5,000 for Patrick’s rides over the past three years, Garrity said.
“It’s a real group effort,” she said. “They literally collected pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters. It’s truly all these pennies that have added up.”
In addition, Patrick’s journey has been a learning experience for all the students, Garrity said, both in regards to his illness and and how everyone reacted to it.
“The kids started to notice things, and they said, ‘We have to have his back,’ “ she said. “It’s not about the money. The kids have developed such empathy and understanding because of it. I’ve had middle school kids come to me and say, ‘Mrs. Garrity, I saw Patrick and I think he’s having a bad day. Is he doing OK?’”
Patrick’s mother, Mary Beth Connolly, also rides with Team Patrick, along with her husband Tim and Patrick’s brother Andrew, 6. Team Patrick had 15 riders in 2010, 29 in 2011 and will have about the same this year, she said.
“They’ve been wonderful,” she said of the school and its students. “The kids have been so wonderful ... kids that don’t even know him, kids he might have never known. No one’s ever put him down. We’re blessed to be where we are.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about them all supporting him and getting him through the past three years ... which have been challenging.”
All the students have been involved in the effort in one way or another. Among other things, sixth-graders Allison Leahy and Nathan Kohler sold raffle tickets to other students to benefit Team Patrick and collected change donations.
“It’s great we’re raising money to help people fighting cancer,” Kohler said.
Leahy said the class also made signs for Patrick’s “survivorship” celebration Friday.
“It’s really cool, that he’s doing this after everything he’s gone through,” she added.
Patrick’s third-grade classmates, including Madelyne Kamens, Christopher Signore, Collin O’Bryan and Anna Salemi, all signed a huge card with “Our Hero” emblazoned on the front to give to Patrick on his last day of chemotherapy, then celebrated with an ice cream party.
All four have ridden with Team Patrick for Roswell in previous years and plan to do so again when the 2012 Ride for Roswell takes place June 23.
“I wanted to ride to raise money for Team Patrick and I wanted to support Patrick,” Signore said.
Salami, Kamens and classmate Lizzie Murphy also contributed with a lemonade stand to support Team Patrick, collecting $120.55 for Roswell.
“Patrick’s our friend,” Salami said, “and we want to support him.”
While his chemotherapy is done, Patrick will periodically return to the hospital for bloodwork and checkups, Mary Beth Connolly said. After five years of clear checkups, he’ll be declared cancer free ... but Team Patrick will probably ride on for Roswell.
“He’s a very caring kid. It’s more because he wants to help the hospital,” she said. “He’s never complained about going there. I think he sees other kids that are sick, and he want to help ... he likes to give back.”