by Jonathan Weaver
Armstrong Senior High School students raised more than $5,000 for an elementary student battling leukemia this weekend.
Starting at 9PM Friday, 32 different-colored teams of students strived to dance and play games all night in the school gymnasium to raise money and awareness for Ford City’s Sydney Brison.
Brison, who will turn 10 next month, was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) in November 2009, but just months after treatment, she relapsed in August 2012 and has had to endure intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Brison was able to attend the beginning of Friday’s event, being wheeled around in a wheelchair by her mother, Angela, father, John, brother, Alec, and Alec’s girlfriend, Rebekah, before an overnight camping trip in Parker.
Angela said it has been a difficult nearly-seven years for the Ford City family.
“It’s been very difficult, but I think we’ve remained very strong, we’re very supportive of each other. We believe in God, we believe in miracles, we’ve kept our faith and just sticking together as a family – that’s what has gotten us through it,” Angela said.
Sydney had a bone marrow transplant July 30 and was admitted into Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for seven months, but is finally home.
“She is getting stronger every day – she has a long road ahead of her, but she’s getting better,” Angela said. “She’s not getting platelet transfusions as often, she gets blood counts every week and her counts are getting better, (doctors) are weaning her off certain medications, and just overall you can tell she’s getting stronger physically and mentally.”
The family is crossing their fingers that a blood test next week will show that Sydney is regularly-producing the donor’s healthy cells.
Brother, Alec – an 11th grader from Armstrong – said it is indeed stressful at times to see his little sister sick, but he copes with it through music and playing with his indie/folk band, The Forest Floor.
Coordinator of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (K-6) Dr. Cheryl A. Soloski home schools Sydney three times per week during her recovery. A fourth-grader at Lenape Elementary, the family is confident Sydney will move on to the next grade.
Sydney said she enjoys spelling the most, and reading Dr. Seuss books.
Armstrong Senior Taylor Relich captained the light-pink team of about a dozen students from a mixed amount of grades.
The former-Ford City High student did not attend Kittanning’s dance-a-thon to raise money to aid five-year-old Gabe Aguirre of Rayburn Township during his battle with leukemia.
Students raised about $10,000 in that effort, but were hoping for more in 2016 based on more student and community involvement during the “Club Penguin”-themed event.
“The whole school is coming together – there are honestly teams from all ages that came to raise money for (Brison). I think it’s really great,” Relich said. “We came from two separate schools and everybody’s willing to bring it together for her.
“Anything to help.”
The light-pink team raised at least $300 courtesy of donations from family and friends.
Relich was glad in a way that she could stay up all night doing something enjoyable instead of bringing her homework.
“I feel that I don’t have that much trouble because I stay up a lot of nights doing homework, so this is really fun for me. I feel that this won’t be that bad because it will be a lot of fun and it’s for a good cause,” Relich said.
The black lights, sugary snacks and cornhole and ping pong tournaments also helped students stay awake for the benefit.
Sydney’s father, John, said the students’ effort was “overwhelming.”
“We have a great community that we live in,” John said. “We’ve had a lot of support – it helps the process.”
Student Council Co-President Gina Roncher revealed students raised a total of $5,265. She was glad Sydney and the student body received so much community support.
“We really pulled together – this new school has been nothing but a blessing to the community. Everyone chips in now,” Roncher said. “Even though we had some bumps in the road, we passed through them.”
School Leo Club Advisor Erin Burkett came to support Sydney and the Student Council, and even brought along three-year-old son Wells to enjoy in the games Friday evening.
“(Wells) is only three-and-a-half, but I think it’s good for him to realize that whenever somebody’s sick or hurting, people can come together and help out. It’s never too young to start learning about giving back to people in your community,” Burkett said.
In March 2014, the 10-hour “Jamming for James” dance-a-thon raised nearly $7,000 to benefit James Lindahl, the three-year-old son of Health Teacher Cindi Lindahl – who was also battling leukemia.
In addition to the student donations, about $200 has also been raised online for Sydney in a GoFundMe account.
The Brison Family also benefited from a dinner in Manor Township Sunday.
All proceeds from the ham dinner and gift basket raffles were split between Katie Beck – a 20-year-old woman dealing with PENET – and Brison to cover medical bills and expenses.