NORTH BRANFORD - In about two months, and with plenty of community support, 60 dedicated and driven high school students turned $60 into $18,000 for 21 charities.
The charities, many of them local, will receive donations ranging from over $100 to over $5,500. They'll each be given the total raised on their behalf by 21 teams in North Branford High School (NBHS) Student Council's 2012 "Big Give" Challenge.
Top earning Team PLB - NBHS juniors Candace Ballantoni, Sydney Lane and Michaela Parisi -- raised $5,529 for North Branford-based Alexander J. Massaro Fund. The fund was created following the wishes of six year-old Alex's mom, Lisa Massaro, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in January. Massaro worked for many years as a postal clerk in the Branford Post Office and was a friend, and a friendly face, to many in Branford and North Branford.
Massaro's husband, also named Alex, was unable to attend the March 1 "Big Give" ceremony at NBHS, where totals raised by each team were revealed before a supportive crowd. Instead, family friend Lynn Riordan was there to thank the team on his behalf, and share Massaro's grateful acknowledgement.
"North Branford once again has risen to the occasion (in) caring about those who live here, so thank you so very, very much," said Riordan. "Alex will be so proud."
Riordan, founder of Matt's Mission Fund, was also was there to hug and thank the members of Team MVRB, which raised over $1,200 for North Branford non-profit Matt's Mission. The four-freshmen team of Nancy Bush, Bryce Mase, Nicole Romanella and Maggie Vergati exceeded their $1,000 goal with fundraising ideas as simple as going door-to-door.
Team PLB raised their remarkable amount after deciding they wanted to step up their original plan of selling home-made goods at school sporting events. Following an idea given to them by Student Council advisor and NBHS teacher Stephanie Byrd, the three worked with teachers, administrators and local organizers to coordinate a district-wide School Hat Day on Feb. 10.
On that day, "…anonymous donations and checks streamed in. The outcome was astonishing -- we couldn't believe it," said Ballantoni. "This is just another instance of North Branford coming together as a community to help those in need. We can't express how truly thankful we are (to those) who helped make Hat Day happen,"
On behalf of all NBHS Big Give teams, Ballantoni also thanked Byrd.
"We'd like to thank Miss Byrd for proposing the inspirational idea, working around the clock and being an inspiration and a role model for everyone in Student Council. We couldn't have done it without her."
NBHS Principal Todd Stoeffler also thanked Byrd, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd and student teams. Stoeffler, who served as interim principal for six months before taking the post in May, 2011, said the Big Give ceremony was "one of the proudest" nights he's yet to experience at the building. He also shared a note from Superintendent of Schools Scott Schoonmaker (unable to attend due to a weather related meeting re-scheduling).
Schoonmaker wrote, in part, "…there is no better feeling than when you serve and help others. Thank you again for being such great ambassadors."
Every Big Give team was acknowledged by Student Council President Ryan Dumbrowski, Vice President Greg Marak, Treasurer Jana Ferraro and Secretary Sarah Brenner. As Big Give team members, the officers helped raise over $1,000 for each of two charities. On March 1, they announced team totals and recognized members of all 21 teams, giving each a "Big Give 2012" medallion
Byrd told The Sound she was overwhelmed by every student's Big Give effort. Inspired by an idea popularized by Oprah Winfrey, Byrd instituted the first NBHS Big Give in 2010, when students turned $58 into $10,000 for charities. This year's program is the second annual Big Give effort by NBHS Student Council. Students received their ceremonial first dollar just before the December school break, decided on their charities – many selected due to a personal or family connection or because of a cause otherwise important to team members -- and spent over two months fundraising in the community.
"We've been saying it over and over again - what a caring community North Branford is. This has just been amazing," said Byrd.
Beneficiaries of the NBHS 2012 "Big Give" are: Africare, Alexander J. Massaro Fund, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Heart Association, Alzheimer's Foundation of America, Centro San Jose Youth Center (CT), Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, Heifer International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Matt's Mission Fund, NBHS Best Buddies, St. Jude's Children's Research, United States Wounded Soldiers Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital and the CT Chapters of the Alzheimer's Association, American Parkinson's Disease Foundation, American Red Cross, Friends of Fisher House, Special Olympics and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.