Lights in the dark

The Metzger Drive loop was alight with the kindness of over 100 people this past Saturday evening. Carrying red and white balloons, complete with flashing lights, they joined together to raise money for the Southern New Jersey Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by participating in the seventh annual Light the Night Walk.

This is the first year the College hosted the walk. Wanting a strong turnout for this year’s walk, Rose Carrano, senior campaign manager, contacted the College immediately.

“My goal was to bring it back to Mercer County,” Carrano said. “The College is really supportive. I knew the community of kids would get involved.”

“Involved” appeared to be an understatement on Saturday. Many College students volunteered to set up, work and clean up after the walk, while others raised money and walked the two-mile course.

Katie Makovec and Kristina Mihalik, both junior math and secondary education majors, and senior art education major Christa Turek volunteered through Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society. The girls painted butterflies, hearts and stars on the faces and arms of some of the youngest walkers.

“It’s nice to see them smile,” Makovec said.

Other student volunteers doubled their support by walking after their volunteer shift was over.

Jessica Barile, senior art education major, began the evening by overseeing the decoration of a large canvas that would be signed by walkers. After the four walks of 2005, it will be auctioned off.

“I have family that (have) died of cancer, not necessarily leukemia, but I thought it was a great opportunity to help out,” Barile said.

At 7 p.m., she took a red balloon, which represents supporters (the white symbolize survivors), and walked with the rest of the participants. Between friends and family, she was able to raise $50.

“I knew everyone was more than willing to donate for a good cause,” she said.

Keri Damaschi, senior elementary education and history major, was also pleasantly surprised at the support she received from fellow College students. As a peer advisor on Wolfe 1, she collected spare change from all of her residents, coming to a total of $61.50.

“I didn’t raise a lot, but I got a lot of people to contribute,” she said.

The benefits of the walk were brought even closer to home when Carrano presented a gift basket to Pippi Simpson, a two-and-a-half year-old New Jersey native diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.

“She’s the reason we’re here tonight,” Carrano said as the participants began their walk around the College’s campus.

However, some walkers had their own personal inspiration for being there that night, like Lauren Fitzpatrick, senior English secondary education major. Her cousin, Renee Smith, passed away at the end of August from leukemia at the age of 34, and Fitzpatrick walked in her memory. In three weeks, she was able to raise $275 from friends and family.

“This is something I’d want to do every year,” she said.

Another group of seven students, including Annelise Catanzaro, Student Government Association executive president and Mollie Seiferas, vice president of student services, walked in honor of junior psychology major Laurie Mandara. Individually and through SGA meetings, the group was able to raise $560 for the walk.

Of course, not all participants in the walk were College students.

One team with a very large presence called themselves Kyle’s Kousins. Mike Shevlin of Hopewell and uncle of 4-year-old Kyle is no stranger to mobilizing supporters. Since his nephew was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia at 16 months old, he has run in two marathons and raised $25,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“We have a lot of support from friends and family,” Shevlin said. “I try to stay as involved as possible.”

By the end of the walk, some of the younger supporters needed to be carried, but the lights in the balloons still burned brightly.

As the participants returned to their cars and more student volunteers packed up the tables, the buzz of accomplishment filled the lawn outside of Brower Student Center.

“We’re really glad the College allowed us to come,” Cathy Traz, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said. “It’s proven to be a great location, and a beautiful campus. We’re very lucky.”