Tonawanda News — Ryan Bertini was only 8 years old when he died in 2005 — but during the nearly eight years since, the memory of a little boy who loved music and art has ensured that hundreds of children in the North Tonawanda area and beyond have access to those things he enjoyed so much.
The Remember Ryan Foundation, founded by John George, Ryan’s grandfather and a former NT school superintendent, has given away more than $60,000 in grants and awards to local schools since its formation in 2007. George took a moment from working on the Ryan A. Bertini Memorial Meditation Garden at the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens on Friday to talk about his grandson and the foundation that bears his name.
“Ryan ... was a great little guy,” George said. “He had a lot of health issues, and he went through many, many surgeries. He was always a happy kid, even when he was in pain. He loved music and art, and that’s why we decided when we put the foundation together to focus on that, because that’s what he got the most enjoyment out of.
“He had to have his little music box when he went to the hospital. Some kids have teddy bears; he had that.”
The Remember Ryan Foundation focuses on providing support for music and art programs in northern Erie and southern Niagara counties, heavily in North Tonawanda.
There are three types of funding, including grants of various types, direct gifts and the corporate sponsorship program, which includes the North Tonawanda High School Visual and Performing Arts Wall of Fame (which just inducted a new class), the North Tonawanda District Art Show and, recently added, the sponsorship of the St. Christopher School musical
Of the grants, level one include $200 grants, usually given to individual classrooms for short-term projects. Level two includes up to $500 for slightly more expansive projects helping several classrooms or a grade level, and are generally longer term. Level three provides $1,000 grants for projects that involve many students and benefit the school for some time to come, often involving providing musical instruments for those who might not be able to afford them, George said.