Stearns Elementary Schools renews 'Pennies for Patients' campaign

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Photo Gallery | Pennies for Patients at Stearns School in Pittsfield

Video | Danny LaPatin, a leukemia survivor, introduces Pennies for Patients at Stearns School

PITTSFIELD — Danny LaPatin has been dealing with leukemia since age 4, not only as a patient, but as an advocate, too.

Now 15, Danny has overcome two bouts with the blood cancer, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and he has had a bone marrow transplant that has helped keep him in remission.

Throughout elementary school, he spoke with his fellow students at Stearns and Capeless elementary schools, both of which he attended, about his disease. In return, the schools, collected pocket change in his honor for "Pennies for Patients," a benefit for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

On Thursday morning, after a recent hiatus of a few years, Stearns Elementary renewed its commitment to Pennies for Patients, kicking off a three-week change drive with a brief assembly, organized by school adjustment counselor Kelly Shuff-Heck and Karen Tatro, New England senior campaign manager for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Near the conclusion of the program, Danny was surprised to be reunited with his former Stearns Elementary classmates, Paige Hinman and Kailey Bell, now both juniors at Taconic High School. The three teenagers hadn't seen each other in six years — Danny attends Pittsfield High School — but they rallied a half-dozen other former classmates to collect $31 worth of pennies over a couple of days to seed the Stearns campaign.

Back as first-graders, the two girls not only collected change, but decided to make muffins and host bake sales at the school to raise additional funds — more than $1,000.

"You may think a few pennies, dimes, nickels and a quarter may not seem like very much money at all," Tatro told the Stearns students, "but every penny really does count."

She said last year, 650 schools in Massachusetts (including other schools in the Berkshires), New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine raised a total of $750,000; schools nationwide raised $29 million.

Paige, Kailey and Danny said they were glad to come back to Stearns to help inspire and encourage the next generation to take up the cause.

"To see the nationwide impact, it's good to be a part of that," Kailey said.

For Danny, who said he's lost friends and fellow pediatric cancer patients to the disease, being able to make it to ninth grade this year after being held back for a while, is "pretty big," he said. "I'm pretty busy but it's good."

Danny, who soon will be among the new poster children for the Pennies for Patients campaign, also participates in Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.

"It's important to raise money for other kids," he said. "I wish no one would ever get cancer again."

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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