What’s a kiss between Wyman Elementary School Principal Judy Daniel and Miles Long The Wonder Python, a seven-foot, 25-pound Burmese Python snake worth?
The answer is $16,600, as the school raised that sum for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Rhode Island campaign, Pennies for Patients, during the last decade.
In honor of the school’s dedication to the campaign, Daniel has been puckering up and planting kisses on reptiles for four years. On Thursday, she smooched Miles Long, as well as Jeffery the Ball Python, who is about 3 feet in length, to rally students and encourage them to reach this year’s goal of $3,000.
For his part, Miles Long didn’t give her a “squeeze,” thankfully.
Fifth grade teacher Cindy Bowden and librarian Marsha Richardson also each gave a kiss to rev up students.
For the past few weeks, students have been bringing in money to add to their classroom pots. So far, they have accumulated $1,300. At the end of the three-week program, a winning classroom will be announced and treated to a pizza party. Second and third place winners will be awarded ice cream parties. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society provides pizza and ice cream coupons to top earners.
All 309 students slithered around Daniel to see her kiss Miles Long and they said they understand the point of the event, which took place at the school entrance to the playground.
“Helping the people in need is the best part,” said sixth grader John Flemming, 12. He dressed as the school mascot, the Wyman Wolf.
Fifth grader Peyton Casey, 11, feels the same. She said she is honored to donate and ask her loved ones to contribute money, whether it’s spare charge, dollar bills or even checks.
“It’s good to do because people have family members that have Leukemia,” Peyton said.
Olivia King, 11, a sixth grader, is one of those people, as her grandmother died of Leukemia. Olivia enjoys raising awareness and contributing to the cause.
“I know that I’m doing something that helps other people get better and I know how hard it is for the people who are dealing with it,” she said.
Like Olivia, fifth grader Dan Lajoie, 11, watched a grandparent lose a life to Leukemia. His grandfather died five years ago this month and to pay his respects, Dan saves his money in a “rainy day jar.”
“I usually put a bunch of coins in it,” said Dan, who referees soccer for the Warwick Soccer Association. “I take out the change at the end of the year and make a contribution.”
His mother, Nancy Lajoie, has been the Pennies for Patients coordinator at Wyman for five years. She volunteers her time not only to help raise funds and awareness, but also to remember Dan’s grandfather, as well as her father, Patrick Farrell. The day of the event would have been his 75th birthday.
“This fundraiser is the only one of it’s kind,” she said in an e-mail following the event. “I love that it gets the kids giving to others. They get nothing out of it other than maybe a pizza or ice cream party, but it is the feeling that they know they have done something good for a child with blood cancer that is the real reward.”
Lajoie said she has witnessed children empty their piggy banks for the cause. Some of them, she said, have donated more than $100.
Further, she said when a man contacted her a couple of years ago and said he had pennies that were too heavy to carry to the bank and he wanted to donate them to Pennies for Patients, her husband Scott, along with Dan, picked them up at his house.
“They say every penny counts and it really is true,” said Lajoie.
Deborah Watterson, a campaign manager the Leukemia Society, also attended the event. She said year after year the Wyman community amazes her.
“I’m always impressed with what the kids do here, especially hearing stories from kids like Danny, who save their money all year,” she said in an interview. “They are kind-hearted and generous. They could do anything with that change, but they are giving it to Pennies for Patients. And it’s true for all the schools. It’s kids helping kids. Once they see the kids struggling with cancer, they want to help however they can. All that change adds up.”
For Daniel, who has kissed other reptiles, including an alligator and giant turtle, the event is fantastic. She said she’s pleased that parents and children were excited about the event.
“It brings the community together for a good cause,” she said. “I’m proud.”
Ray Ward, owner of Bwana Iguana Reptile Adventure, which he operates out of his Johnston home, has provided the reptiles for the past three years. He offers his time to the cause at no cost.
“The kids get really excited,” he said.
Ward, a member of the National Geographic Society, as well as the first president of the Rhode Island Herpetological Association, started his business 10 years ago on a part-time basis. When the economy began to decline and he lost his full-time job as a production manager of AutoMart Magazine, he used the severance package he earned and invested some money into creating Bwana Iguana. Since then, he’s been visiting schools, camps, day care centers and performing at birthday parties. With more than 25 animals in his collection, Ward said the interactive educational show is fun for kids and adults alike.
“I’ve been interested in reptiles my whole life,” he said in an interview at the event. “I had them as pets growing up and then I realized I could make some cash showing them to kids.”
To make a contribution to the cause, contact Lajoie at email@example.com or visit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at lls.org.
For more information about Bwana Iguana, visit bwanaiguana.com and facebook.com/pages/Bwana-Iguana-Reptile-Adventure.