Thursday, December 03, 2009

Students rally to help one of their own with heart transplant expenses

Huron Heights Students
Huron Heights Secondary School teacher Sheila Weidinger (right) with students Marco de Bruyn (left), 16, and Brandon Parsons (center), 18, are raising money for Brandon Grimaldi's medical costs.
Photo: Peter Lee, Record Staff

BY LUISA D’AMATO Waterloo Region Record, Ontario, Canada

KITCHENER — Dozens of students at Huron Heights Secondary School have never even met fellow student Brandon Grimaldi, but they’re working hard to raise thousands of dollars for him anyway.

Grimaldi, 14, had heart surgery earlier this year after suffering childhood health problems since he was born. He needs $2,000 a month in medication, mostly to make sure his body doesn’t reject the new heart.

But his family has maxed out their drug plan at $800 for the year. They’re working on getting better coverage through the government, but it hasn’t happened yet, and Grimaldi can’t wait.

Once students at the school heard there was a problem, they blitzed the region, asking stores for items that could be sold at a silent auction Dec. 8 to benefit Brandon and his family.

They’ve raised $1,700 in cash already, and have about 200 items to sell next week. Students will run the silent auction at the school from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It is open to the public.

“I think it’s really good that we’re helping a student in our own school,” said Marco de Bruyn, 16.

He doesn’t know Grimaldi, but “he looks like a nice kid,” he said.

“He’s one of our own,” agreed fellow student Tasha Connell, also 16.

“I see him in the halls and he always has a smile on his face.”

Both Marco and Tasha are students of Sheila Weidinger, who teaches marketing and business leadership at Huron Heights. Weidinger got the idea to help Grimaldi after talking with his guidance counsellor.

She routinely has her marketing students plan and carry out fundraising projects. This year, the class voted to help Grimaldi instead of choosing a charity.

Grimaldi’s family says he isn’t comfortable being in the public spotlight, but he is grateful for the help and support.

“It’s overwhelming to see how these kids have all come together,” Weidinger said.

She pointed out that some of her most enthusiastic and effective fundraisers are the students who are not usually motivated by school assignments.

“They were so excited,” she said. “It’s always so rewarding when you can reach the student who may not necessarily enjoy classes and school, but they feel good about their ability to help someone else.”

Students got cash donations from some companies, and gift items from others, such as a hockey stick from former Leafs captain Mats Sundin, jewelry, spa packages, an autographed Kitchener Rangers jersey, and a day out in Toronto, including tickets to a show.

The big gifts were meaningful, but so were some of the smaller ones, like the $5 in change that one student dug out of his pocket for the cause, Weidinger said.

“They have made me unbelievably proud,” she said.

“They look at Brandon as one who’s really struggled and persevered, and come through. They admire him.”

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