Bellamy students raise money for one of their own

6/8/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: June

Students at Bellamy Middle School pose for a picture before participating in a fundraising walk to benefit Griffin’s Friends and a classmate named Cory who is battling cancer. The event was organized by eighth grader Lisneida Pena. Story on page 6.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

When choosing a cause to support for her service project or Bellamy Middle School eighth grader Lisneida Pena decided a subject that was close to home.

Little did she know that it would end up touching an entire student body.

Cancer, Pena explained, has touched her family in the past, so she decided to embark on a project for Project 351 that would help the lives of children dealing with the disease, organizing a walk to raise money for Griffin’s Friends, a group of volunteers that supports children with cancer and their families.

Project 351 is a nonprofit organization that leads student-led service projects across the state. Pena’s project was selected from one of three finalists in the eighth grade by the school’s administration and guidance councilors. Once selected, with the guidance of Vice Principal Dan Phelan, the school’s Project 351 adviser, she embarked on a school-wide effort in which students donated $2 to participate in the walk around the Bellamy school building.

But as the project moved forward, the efforts took on a much more personal tone.

A fellow Bellamy student named Cory was diagnosed with cancer.

Pena and Phelan agreed the project should include one of their own.

“She was smart about it. She thought about what she could do that was cheap and effective and she decided to do a walk for Griffin’s Friends … but along the line, Cory had his struggles and the project became even more meaningful,” Phelan explained.

While she said she didn’t know Cory well before his diagnosis, his story and knowing what his family was going through served as motivation.

“Cancer runs in my family, so I wanted to do something to help that cause and what happened to Cory drove me more to do this,” Pena said.

In addition to the walk, T-shirts that read “Bellamy Bulldogs are Cory Strong” were made and sold with the proceeds going directly to benefit Cory’s family and fight against cancer. They sold at an impressive rate.

“Every teacher bought a T-shirt. We are all 100 percent in support of Cory,” Phelan said. “And I’ve seen hundreds of kids wearing T-shirts and to see that level of support, it’s amazing.”

He added, “Cory, as long as I’ve known him, has been a nice, nice kid and he’s still that kid now even though he’s going through this. He was one of the nicest kids I’ve met and of course that makes it even more difficult, however it’s even more meaningful and appropriate that we all want him to do so well.”

All told, nearly $3,000 was raised for Cory and Griffin’s Friends by the afternoon of June 2 when the walk stepped off, Pena said.

At a presentation before the walk, Chicopee High School Princicpal James Blain explained to students exactly why their donation to Griffin’s Friends was so important. Blain told them he has been involved with the organization for a decade and runs its annual fundraising marathon in support of a student their age from Springfield. This year, he said, she ran the last three miles of the marathon with him. Fundraising efforts like the ones at Bellamy, he added, can help provide services like full Thanksgiving dinners to families with members receiving treatment and Christmas gifts for sick children.

“It becomes more like ‘Griffin’s Family’ instead of Griffin’s Friends,” he said.

He also credited the students with taking a step toward maturity and becoming community leaders.

“What you’re doing today is learning how to invest in the world. Better than anything else you’re going to learn here, you’re learning how to be a good person and that’s huge,” he said.

Many students also signed a banner that read “Cory Strong,” which Pena presented to Cory’s mother and grandmother before the walk.

Contemplating the huge show of support, Phelan told the students it was a very satisfying sight.

“To see hundreds of people helping, this is why I do my job,” he said. “I’ll fight through the discipline and the bad grades to see hundreds of kids raising money for one of their own. To me, my job doesn’t get any more meaningful than that.”

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