A random act of kindness 27 years ago showed Tracy Piatt how even a few crumbled dollar bills and some spare coins can make a difference in someone’s life. It eventually inspired her to start the Links for Life program with her second grade students at Fishcreek Elementary School in Stow.
Piatt’s son Kenny was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency. When he was 9 months old, he received a bone marrow transplant at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. During his hospitalization, Piatt stayed at the Ronald McDonald House about 10 blocks away.
One rainy night, she met a cab driver who asked her about her stay and about Kenny. When they reached the Ronald McDonald House, he refused to take the fare.
“I could tell from how he was dressed, that he really needed the money, but he wouldn’t accept it,” Piatt said.
A few weeks later, she received a call from the front desk of the Ronald McDonald House, telling her she had a visitor.
“I had no idea who it could be, as I did not know anyone in the city,” she said.
In the lobby, she saw that same cabbie. As she approached him, she noticed he had a hole in one of his shoes. He told her that he’d been thinking about Kenny and everything he was going through. He had been saving his tips over the last few weeks and handed Piatt some crumbled bills and spare change.
Again, despite her protests, he insisted she take the money. Piatt was overwhelmed by the gesture.
“This was a bright spot in my life, during a very dark time,” she said. “It also showed me the impact that even a few dollars can make.”
In 1994, she used that life lesson to create a special fundraiser for the bone marrow transplant program at Akron Children’s known as Links for Life. Every other year, her second grade students sell and decorate paper links for 5 cents.
It has since expanded to include all the second grade classes at Fishcreek Elementary. The students now also sell fluorescent orange links for $5, silver ones for $10 and gold ones for $20.
The paper links are joined together in a chain, which last year circled the school building four times. The fourth graders who worked on the project as second graders serve as mentors, helping the youngsters write letters to community leaders, asking for their support, and counting the money that is collected.
To date, the program has raised more than $56,000 for Akron Children’s.
Piatt also provides health lessons to her students on cells, blood and bone marrow. Staff from Akron Children’s, including stem cell transplant program coordinator Sue Neitz, CNP, CPON, pediatric hematologist-oncologist Stephanie Savelli, MD, and Sara Lundenberger from the Akron Children’s Foundation, visit the school to talk to the children about cancer and how their donation is helping other kids.
At the end of the fundraiser, the students come to the hospital for a check presentation. They have even composed a Links for Life song.
“It’s been wonderful to watch how the children embrace this program and see how every little bit counts," Piatt said.
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