Hampton students holding monthly fundraisers for classmate who has cancer
Connor Michalek, 7, shows off his wrestling belts at his Hampton home. Wrestling is an "everyday, all day activity," for him and his brother, Jackson, according to their mother, Brittany Caligiuri.
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Students at Wyland Elementary School in Hampton have been giving for a special cause since the school year started in August.
They have been hosting monthly fundraising events for their classmate, 7-year-old Connor Michalek.
Connor, a kindergarten student at Wyland, has spine and brain cancer.
"For the past two years, we have raised money for Make-A-Wish, but this year, we decided to raise money for Connor so we can grant him a wish," said Roberta Good, principal at Wyland.
Connor, son of Brittany Caligiuri and Steven Michalek of Hampton, was diagnosed with cancer when he was 3, Ms. Caligiuri said.
"It was after I had our second son, Jackson, and Connor started having stomach problems," she explained.
The initial symptoms began in May 2009, and at first, doctors thought Connor had a stomach flu, but as his problems persisted, Connor suffered from other side effects including headaches, then started walking oddly, Ms. Caligiuri said.
In December 2009, Connor was diagnosed with brain cancer. He had treatment and spent time in both Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and the Children's Institute.
"I had to quit my job, and people just really rallied around us," she said.
In early 2010, one of Ms. Caligiuri's friends started Connor's Crusade, a group of friends to help raise money to offset costs of Connor's care and expenses.
"Connor loves superheroes and she thought it would be fun," Ms. Caligiuri said.
Connor's cancer stabilized for a time, according to his mother, but it came back in full force in May 2011.
When Mrs. Good and others at Wyland learned of Connor's battle after he started school there last fall, they decided to focus their fundraising efforts on Connor's Crusade.
"We do something every year anyway -- this is such an amazing and supportive community. We knew we could grant Connor a wish," Mrs. Good said.
The fundraisers have ranged from communitywide events, including a face painting booth at the Talbot Challenge (a homecoming celebration), to a lemonade stand created by a fellow student.
Connor continues treatment and his mother said they schedule chemotherapy in the morning, so Connor can still attend afternoon kindergarten with his classmates.
"He loves school. He just wants to be with the other kids," his mother said.
Mrs. Good said, "He is an incredible child. He has just really won us all over."
Fundraising events have spread throughout the district. Students through the Kids Care Club at Central Elementary School, also in Hampton, have raised money for Connor's Crusade, according to club sponsor and elementary guidance counselor Melissa Maley.
"Some of our students know Connor because they are on his T-ball team or from living in the same community," Ms. Maley said. "Connor's story has touched all of us and we wanted to help out here at Central."
The students have held sales of candy and bracelets at school events, sponsored theme days and are collecting donations
Two Hampton High School students, Ian and Josh Waldschmidt, made a movie about Connor titled "A Day in the Life of Connor," which made its debut at the school open house in November and was tied into a fundraiser.
At the end of the school year, the money raised for Connor's Crusade will be used to grant Connor a special wish.
"He is already talking about where he wants to go," Ms. Caligiuri said, "He loves the beach, so I think it will be somewhere with a beach."
Mrs. Good said the students have really made a connection to the fundraising activities because they connect to Connor.
"They are always high-fiving him and asking him how he feels," she said.
Connor, however, shies away from the attention.
"During the open house, he glanced at the movie, and then asked where the book fair was," Mrs. Good said. "He just wants to be a normal kid."
First Published January 10, 2013 5:42 am