Floating balloon from W.Va. elementary school inspires charity

Students benefit from kindness

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Jeff Pavlinsky was hunting in Monroeville when he happened upon a stray balloon -- 205 miles away from its home in Clay, W.Va.

Inside the balloon was a card from Dalton Salisbury, a fourth-grader at Clay Elementary School. On one side, the card asked the balloon's new owner to contact the school so students could measure how far their balloon had traveled. On the other, Dalton had scrawled a personal note: "I want a trick bike."

Amused at the boy's earnest requests, Mr. Pavlinsky and his wife, Judy, decided to buy him the bike, which was given to him at a special school assembly in March. His joy inspired Ms. Pavlinsky, a nurse at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, to ask some of her colleagues to help provide all 68 fourth-graders with gifts of their own.

"Some of the kids just didn't have anything," Ms. Pavlinsky said of Clay, a rural town with a median family income of roughly $15,000. "It's a very poor area, and we thought it would be really nice to do something to help."

In preparation, Clay teachers covertly solicited gift information from students. One class project asked students to write a wish list of items they most needed; another asked students to measure their waist size and leg length. A group of eight nurses drove down to deliver the gifts last month.

"It was fun shopping for our boy," Forbes nurse Lori Cane said. "We got him a basketball, skateboard, summer clothes, a bunch of toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste, underwear, socks and a backpack filled with school supplies. He said it was the best day of his life, even better than Christmas.

"I also had a bag of girly shampoo and conditioner, so I asked a teacher who could use them," Ms. Cane said. The teacher pointed to a girl who was living with her grandparents because of her parents' financial problems, the teacher said. "When I gave it to her, she was so excited she just stood there and smelled the bottle. It was heartbreaking."

Alicia Holcomb, a math teacher, said the gifts had a similar effect on all her students. One, a boy with a proclivity for trouble, was given a pair of football cleats. The next day, she said, he signed up for the football team.

The gifts were of particular meaning for Dalton, whose father had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. But when he saw his new bike, his face lit up. "It was awesome," he said.

The Forbes nurses hope to continue their relationship with Clay Elementary, Ms. Pavlinsky said. On July 1, they will begin fundraising to provide school supplies to all roughly 600 students at the school -- an effort dubbed "Team Clay."


Nikita Lalwani: nlalwani@post-gazette.com.


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