CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Any family that has had one of its members diagnosed with cancer knows the feeling well; a sickening churning of the stomach that immediately transforms into electric impulses that race directly to the brain and settle in for a long stay. If it’s a young family dealing with a diagnosis of pediatric cancer, the situation can overwhelm them.
To help those young families weather the storm that’s been thrust upon them, Domonic Girolamo, a Boy Scout from Troop 2 in Ballston Spa, reached out to his community this spring as part of his Eagle Scout project.
Girolamo, 17, said he wanted to do something more than supervise the rebirth of a pocket park, resuscitate a walking trail, or build an information kiosk, all appropriate Eagle Scout projects. He wanted something that would make an immediate impact on people who were looking for a little help.
For his Eagle Scout project Girolamo, collected nearly 1,500 personal hygiene items to be used by families temporarily staying in Albany after their child had been admitted to Albany Medical Center with a cancer diagnosis. The personal items will go into Hope Bags which are presented to each family by Nick’s Fight to Be Healed Foundation upon a child’s admittance to the Albany Med’s Melodies Treatment Center for Childhood Cancer.
Girolamo delivered the items to the foundation board member Annette Romano at Shenendehowa High School East June 5. Romano knows the feeling of a family getting hit with a childhood cancer diagnosis well; she lost her son Luke to cancer in 2011.
“The whole feeling overcomes you and it stays with you because it’s not a moment in time, it’s a new normal,” she said. “Luke’s was a seven-year battle and believe me when you’re in there and getting all this life-changing information, to be given anything with some connection to a normal life is so appreciated.”
Girolamo collected toothbrushes, mouthwash, hair ties, detergent packs, socks, candy, and many other personal items left in donation boxes that he built and placed at high pedestrian traffic locations around the Village of Ballston Spa.
“I put collection boxes and the information brochures that I designed at my mom’s place of employment, my sister’s, Tree Huggers on Front Street, O’Brien’s Pharmacy on Front Street, and VFW Post 358,” he said. “The VFW was one of the bigger donors for this. I also got donations of money and went shopping for some things I thought were needed that I didn’t see coming in.”
The personal items, along with CDs, gift cards for gas, movies, and dining go into black and red Hope Bags that are presented to the families shortly after their child is admitted to the Melodies Center.
Though he knew the cause, he’d undertaken was a good one Girolamo said he was unsure when he started out how many people would contribute.
“I wondered if anyone would donate at all,” he said, “but the community was so generous I kept running out of space at home to hold all the items.”
In describing how the idea for the donation to the foundation came about, Girolamo said another scout in his troop had done something similar in the past, something that was not one of the usual constructive types of Eagle Scout projects and that motivated him to think in a different direction.
“I learned of Nick’s Fight to Be Healed Foundation and what it is they do last year when I heard about Nick’s Ride and I discussed doing something for them with my mom,” Girolamo said.
Girolamo’s mother, Angela Scripter, is a cancer survivor herself and a member of the organizing committee for Nick’s Ride, a fundraising motorcycle ride for the Foundation.
“I saw this idea as a good way to pay it forward for all the help I was given,” Scripter said.
Helping Girolamo and Romano sort the items and prepare them for the Hope Bags were Kendall Graves, Charlotte Cardone, and Lilly Fox. All three are members of Nick’s Round Table, the teen division of Nick’s Fight To Be Healed Foundation.
“Doing this makes me feel good,” Fox said. “It gives me a chance to help people I wouldn’t normally have a chance to help.”
Cardone and Graves felt much the same.
“It’s nice knowing that somebody else needs it,” Cardone said as she pulled out items from one of Girolamo’s cardboard boxes.
“It makes me feel good that I’m helping,” added Graves.
Romano explained the value of their efforts and the impact the project will have on everyone in the room.
“You’ll probably reach every child diagnosed with cancer at Albany Med. this year,” she said. “Once they are given the bags the families will know they have community support; that they are not alone, and that’s so important for them.”
Girolamo was pleased to hear that his project had fulfilled his idea, that it would have a direct impact on someone.
“I’m relieved that I got way more [items] than I expected and that they’ll have an impact on someone who needs help,” he said.