The brisk air on Friday, Oct. 25, did not faze McKinley Avenue Elementary School’s third- and fourth-grade students as they celebrated Make A Difference Day with an early-morning walkathon in the front parking lot of the school. The Stafford Township schoolchildren were dressed in their school colors, blue and gold, to show their support for David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide financial assistance and services to families, primarily in New Jersey, affected by a cancer diagnosis.
|Photo by Jack Reynolds|
McKinley Avenue Elementary School
students Julia Nitting and Makayla Alessi
show their support for David's Dream and
Believe Cancer Foundation.
“We try to do something good for somebody in the area, and we chose David this year because his story’s so compelling,” said Susan Malmstron, a physical education teacher and organizer of Make A Difference Day at McKinley Avenue. “It’s just unbelievable what he’s been through and how he took this horrible event in his life and changed it for such a great thing. It’s such a good story for the kids to learn about.
“We have had staff members affected. We have had students affected. Cancer now affects all families, whether it’s a parent, a grandparent, a child. It’s just so rapid out there, and that’s why we thought this was a good charity,” she added. “A lot of these kids know someone that was affected by it (cancer). Some of these kids have lived through the hardships of cancer, or they’re going through it now. They see their grandparents or aunts and uncles that have gone through this. We try to talk about turning that negative into a positive thing.”
As the largest national day of community service, Make A Difference Day unites millions of volunteers around the world in a common mission to improve the lives of others. McKinley Avenue’s students have participated in the event for the past 14 years, raising more than $100,000 for local charities.
This year, the students far exceeded their goal of $6,250, which represents all 625 children who attend the school. The kids raised $14,502, which they presented to David’s Dream and Believe later in the day during an assembly.
“I would not be lying if I said it was one of the top five days of my life,” said David Caldarella, a local resident and founder of David’s Dream and Believe. “The donation and amount of the donation certainly shocked me, but it was the dedication and determination of the faculty and third- and fourth-graders to make a difference in the lives of others in our community that truly left me speechless and had me crying tears of joy during the assembly.
“The icing on the cake was having my niece Isabella, a fourth-grader, involved in the event,” he added. “For me to not only walk with her but look out and see her in the assembly was something very special for me. It inspires me that 8- to 10-year-old children with the backing of a tremendous faculty could set out on a mission to make a difference and succeed in doing exactly that. I will never forget McKinley's Make A Difference Day 2013 and will carry those inspiring feelings with me every day for the rest of my life.”
After Oct. 16’s kickoff meeting, led by Caldarella, the students were sent home with pledge envelopes to help raise money for the foundation throughout the week. The students also sold “Dream and Believe” bracelets, donated by the foundation, and contributed to a coin jar in homeroom.
“David did tell the kids last week that he had a 5 percent chance to live and that he overcame that,” said Malmstron. “That right there really sums it all up. Anything is possible.”
— Kelley Anne Essinger
This article was published in The SandPaper.