Less than a week ago, Pilgrim junior Haley McCusker, 17, didn’t know Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, a mother-daughter duo from Lowell, Mass., who were seriously injured during the Boston Marathon bombing.
But they became well acquainted on Saturday, as Haley, along with at least 20 members of the Governor Francis Farms community, invited Celeste and Sydney to be the guests of honor at a fundraiser dinner. Little did they know that pasta and meatballs, supplied by Palazzo’s Italian Deli, plus donated raffle and auction items, would raise more than $8,000.
“They were so grateful that we did this for them,” said McCusker. “It’s a good feeling knowing we helped them get through a hard time in their life and it was great seeing how happy the were.”
Sydney, 18, a senior at Lowell High School, is recovering from near-fatal wounds, as shrapnel from the explosions severed her femoral artery. The good news is she is recovering well and will graduate tomorrow, with plans of attending Middlesex College in the fall.
“She was saved by first responders and doctors,” said Sydney’s uncle, Tim Corcoran, who lives in Governor Francis Farms with his wife and children. “She can use both her legs and is going to be able to walk.”
Celeste lost both legs, one below the knee and the other at the knee. The money raised will be used to help fund prosthetics.
Tim said she had a fitting earlier this week and expressed to him how thankful she and Sydney are to the Governor Francis Farms community, as well as McCusker.
“They are unbelievably impressed by this young girl’s efforts and they are incredibly thankful to her and the entire community in Warwick,” said Tim. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support.”
McCusker decided to take part in the fundraiser as her senior project after learning that her mother, Lynn, and a group of neighbors and businesses began planning it. Though she’s a junior, she recently sent in an early proposal and selected firefighting as a topic. She quickly shifted gears, changing her theme to the fundraiser and began the hunt for raffle and auction items, which accumulated more than half the funds raised.
Items included donations from the Boston Red Sox, Alex and Ani, Staples, Tiffany’s, Art and Soul Gifts in Cranston, and Baxter’s Jewelers, where Haley works part-time. Pilgrim Principal Marie Cote, who served as Haley’s project mentor, donated plush teddy bears with gift certificates to local stores.
“Mrs. Cote helped me tremendously,” Haley said. “I had never done anything like this before and she knew what to do. With her help, it all came together. Without her, I wouldn’t have known how to do any of it. It was really helpful to have someone like her guide me.”
Many residents made donations, as well, including Haley’s mother. After purchasing and framing a print depicting the cover of Boston Magazine’s May issue, which features sneakers worn during the marathon arranged in the shape of a heart, she had Celeste and Sydney sign it.
“I think it ended up selling for $475,” Lynn said.
Lisa Kiernan, a Governor Francis Farms resident and friend of the Corcoran family, helped sell tickets for the event and praised Haley for doing a great deal of footwork to garnish raffle and auction items. Taking part in the planning, Kiernan said, was a pleasure.
“It was very uplifting to see what we were able to do just between our neighbors,” she said. “We all banded together and pitched in. We wanted to do something to help and everyone in the community was just so generous.”
Even students at John Brown Francis Elementary School got involved, as Julie McCaffrey’s fourth grade class decorated raffle buckets with words of encouragement for Celeste and Sydney. Haley’s sister, Ella, 10, was among the students.
“It was a whole neighborhood effort,” Lynn said.
Lynn said that Haley, a member of Pilgrim’s lacrosse team, learned multiple lessons through the project. While she already knew the importance of helping others, she also got a crash course in stress management, as her lacrosse game that was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. on the day of the fundraiser, was switched to 6 p.m. at the last minute, overlapping the time of the event.
The switch was particularly upsetting at first because Haley has been nominated for a Cox Rhode Island Sports Award, an honor that acknowledges the Ocean State’s best and brightest high school athletes. It was rumored that a representative from Cox was going to be at the game to observe Haley.
Still, she was able to play, leave the game early and make the dinner on time. The team lost the game, but there’s no doubt the fundraiser was a win.
“In the end, the stress was all worth it,” she said. “I was passionate about doing it for this family and I really wanted to make a difference in their lives. I know it’s going to help them get the recovery they need. I’m happy that I got to help out.”
Tim is happy, too. He didn’t know Haley before the event, but he is pleased he met another neighbor with a heart that’s in the right place.
“When you decide where you’re going to live, you hope that you end up in a great community,” he said. “We feel that we are very lucky to live here and be surrounded by so many people in Warwick and Rhode Island.”