It’s summertime, and the livin' is easy. We’re in the lazy days of summer. You know, the dog days—time for lounging by the pool, no more teacher’s dirty looks, and whiling away the time.
That is unless you're one of these four amazing Wiltonians.
All three women and one 7-year-old girl have decided to undertake fundraising efforts―each for a different cause―putting in significant time, relationships and energy to make a difference in the lives of others.
They've each decided to do something because of a personal connection to the cause for which they're raising money. Their dedication is selfless and completely for the greater good.
My hope in featuring them is that it expands the circle of good to help enable them not only to reach their goals, but to surpass them. Knowing that in fundraising, every little bit helps, I hope you'll consider any bit of help for these members of your community. I ask because by helping them make a difference in everyone's lives with their acts of altruism, you're making a difference in the world as well.
Alexa Steckel, Help Change Cancer
She may be only seven, but for Alexa Steckel, changing the world is something she knows anyone can do. In fact, she understands that actual change can be a big part of that change-the-world philosophy.
During a bedtime talk with her mom, Julie, she was inspired with the idea that she could do good in a really easy way: “I can collect change at soccer games, from my friends, and it might change cancer! Can we start tomorrow?”
Alexa lost a dear great aunt to the disease this past year—it was her first experience knowing anyone to die. “I felt sad. I want to help people survive cancer. I really want everybody to know the cure for cancer, so no one dies from cancer again,” she explained.
Right away she came up with a name for her philanthropy: Help Change Cancer. With her simple idea sparked, she was eager to put things in motion—but realized she’d need her mom’s help. “As a kid, it is a little harder to know which things you have to learn and need to do,” she said.
The two quickly set up a website to make it very easy for people to donate online and a Facebook page to help publicize it. Money donated through the website goes directly to the American Cancer Society and is tax deductible.
Alexa also plans to collect change around Wilton, with her first collection effort set for Sunday, September 2, 11am-2pm outside the .
Since starting Help Change Cancer less than a month ago, Alexa has already raised more than $400, and she’s grateful for every contribution. “I want to thank the people who donated money to help people who have cancer and to help stop this disease.”
Chrissy Suchy, Lets Erase the Stigma
Many college juniors are having a blast during their summer breaks from school. Maybe they’re working or doing an internship, perhaps they’re spending some time hanging out with their friends.
But for Chrissy Suchy, a 20-year-old who graduated Wilton High School in 2010, this summer is one in which she’s reflecting on recent losses of two of her peers to suicide. One, Michael Gannon, was a fellow student with Chrissy at Boston College; the other, Bradley Helt, was a teammate of hers when she swam with the . They both died within one month of each other this past spring.
“Bradley would make everyone smile. He was the life of the swim practice. He was just applying to colleges, a phenomenal swimmer, great with the younger kids. I was completely shocked when I heard. There were no words, I was just shocked,” she recalled.
“Michael was also the life of the party and was a great, big teddy bear. He is missed terribly, and I really didn’t know how to react at that point, because I had all these feelings from Bradley’s death, and then to have another close friend…,” she added, trailing off. “There was so much confusion, anguish and sadness, and it was too surreal.”
Chrissy was already signed up to run the San Francisco marathon this summer, but after the double tragedies, she decided to dedicate her run to the memory of her two friends. She’s raising money on behalf of a suicide prevention and support group called Let’s Erase the Stigma (LETS).
“LETS is an organization that helps kids who are dealing with bullying, or having thoughts of suicide, and also people who have lost friends to suicide. I figured this would bring closure to my pain and a lot of other people’s pain, and it would bring light to the impact suicide can have on others. What better way than to run in honor and memory of these two boys.”
With a webpage set up, Chrissy is on her way to reaching the fundraising goal she’s set for herself. But just as important to her is raising awareness about suicide, especially erasing the stigma often associated with it.
“Even if people don’t donate, just become aware of children in the community and the struggles that they may be going through. Whether it’s outright or internal, parents can talk to their children, and for children to have the ability to speak up—if they are having issues, there are so many people that will love them,” she said, her voice breaking. “These boys, we loved them so much, and if they only had the chance to know that, we may have had the chance to help them a little bit more. I think of them every day of my life.”
To support Chrissy’s run to help LETS and suicide prevention, visit her webpage at http://www.crowdrise.com/christinesuchy.
Jennifer Iannuzzi, Smith-Magenis Research Foundation
Those who know Jennifer Iannuzzi aren’t surprised that she uses the word ‘relentless’ to describe herself. That quality has already made her a fierce runner, having completed many 5K races, two half marathons and most recently her first triathlon.
She’s just as determined when it comes to supporting her 6-year-old daughter Sydney, who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder, Smith-Magenis Syndrome (SMS).
Just over two years ago, (SMSRF) to raise money for increasing research and therapeutic options for individuals with SMS. Since its inception, the foundation has been able to award two $50,000 research grants, an amazing feat for such a young organization.
With several upcoming events to benefit the foundation, including the 2nd Annual 5K Run/Walk, a team triathlon in September, and a wine dinner on Tuesday, July 31 at Luca Ristorante, SMSRF has something for everyone to participate in. For the upcoming dinner event, Luca Morrone, the ’s owner, has put together a foodie’s dream menu. Andrew McMurray, the owner of Zachys Wine and Liquor in Scarsdale, is teaming up to match each of the three courses with rare and special Italian wines.
The dinner is somewhat of a kickoff and promotional effort for the September triathlon. Both events are really being driven by McMurray, Jennifer’s family friend. She’s thrilled he is so dedicated to raising funds and awareness on behalf of SMSRF.
“Andrew is amazing, he put the team together for the triathlon we’re running, Team Sydney. He does a ton of triathlons and always does fundraising as part of it. Unbeknownst to me, he put together a team for the Jarden Westchester Triathlon. So of course I am now on the team too,” she explained, adding “With this dinner hopefully people will support our effort for the foundation.”
Tickets for the dinner cost $125 per person, with almost all of that going to the foundation—Luca’s is preparing the dinner at half that, and Zachy’s is donating the wine and covering 100 percent of their cost.
“If you’re a food and wine person, you’ll see it’s an amazing meal,” said Jennifer.
Spots at the dinner are limited. To purchase tickets visit http://www.smsresearchfoundation.org/2012/07/13/3-bs-wine-dinner/. You can find out more information about the Smith-Magenis Research Foundation and the other fundraising events at http://www.smsresearchfoundation.org/.
Jenn Lewis, CT Challenge
Diagnosed with cancer of the appendix a little over two years ago, Jenn Lewis was understandably forever-changed. She endured several surgeries and six months of chemotherapy. Now cancer-free, she credits an organization called CT Challenge with helping her recover.
“CT Challenge provides support to cancer survivors post-treatment. It started seven years ago, primarily providing grants to hospitals in CT. Within the past few years, they decided to build the Survivorship Center with the intent of providing services to cancer survivors, including yoga, meditation classes, spinning classes, nutritional support and support groups. Their tag line is, ‘Helping cancer survivors live healthier, happier and longer lives.’ It doesn’t matter what type of cancer you have, or your age, they are there to help you thrive after your diagnosis,” Jenn described.
One of the most key aspects of these services is that they are provided completely free of charge to anyone who is a cancer survivor.
To do so, CT Challenge runs a bike race every year to raise funds, which go toward completing the center and running the programs. Participants can choose to ride 10, 25, 50, 75 or 100 mile distances, and fundraising goals increase along with longer distances.
Jenn participated for the first time last year, creating a team she dubbed “Be Positive.” Forty people, mostly from Wilton, joined her team to bike in support of Jenn’s fundraising, netting more than $32,000.
“I can’t even explain to you, it’s overwhelming to me that people are willing to take the time out of their own lives, to train, to raise money, to support me and other cancer survivors. It’s just overwhelming. It’s an awesome feeling. Whether it be a donation, or committing to be on the team, or even just the verbal support, it’s great.”
This year’s race takes place on July 28. Team Be Positive and Jenn will be riding again, with the goal of raising $50,000. Jenn has a webpage set up for people to support the team’s efforts. Additionally, team members will be hosting a guest bartending event at Marley’s on Tuesday, July 24. All of the tips they earn will be donated to the team.
“That night is also my birthday, which is kind of cool,” added Jenn. “Birthdays are a big deal once you’re a cancer survivor. What used to be, ‘oh woe is me, another year older,’ once you’re a cancer survivor, it’s totally a celebration. Every birthday is a big deal.”
To support Jenn and Team Be Positive, click here.
Correction: The column has been updated to correct the date of the Zachys/Luca Ristorante wine dinner benefiting the SMS Research Foundation. The dinner will be held on July 31, not July 21.