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PUPILS WITH HUGE NEED TO READ FIND AUTO DEALER TO BE A FRIEND INDEED

Like Little Orphan Annie, economically deprived Niagara Street Elementary School appears to have found a Daddy Warbucks to help buy books and writing materials for the school's "Read a Lot Campaign."

The campaign requires each pupil to read a million words this year. Thanks to his friendship with one of the school's literacy coaches, Billy Fuccillo -- owner of numerous auto dealerships who became famous for saying "Huuuuuge" in his television ads -- has agreed to donate to the school a percentage of the money he gets for each car he sells this month at his Grand Island location.

"That could come to at least $10,000 or $15,000," said Gregory Santoro, the literacy coach. "Billy mentioned to me that would be the minimum. That's huge for a school to get that kind of money for books and any type of supplies we need for our reading and writing program," he added with a smile.

Though Santoro and Fuccillo come from the Syracuse area, Santoro said he did not meet the businessman until he moved to this area to teach at Harry F. Abate Elementary School. Santoro was sent to Niagara Street Elementary this fall.

"I saw his commercial and thought I'll go there and see if he can come down and help my school district. . . . We bonded, and now he's a friend. . . . He has a big heart when it comes to children," Santoro said.

After Fuccillo asked him what he could do to help, Santoro said the car dealer came to Abate and spoke to his 26 pupils about persuasive writing. "It was funny. Billy stood outside my classroom door. And as I told the kids, 'Today we're going to learn a huge lesson, Billy came in dressed all in black and asked, 'Did somebody say huge? The kids went crazy. It was beautiful." Fuccillo also gave all 26 pupils Sponge Bob Square Pants sleeping bag as a gift.

Later in the year, Fuccillo and several other local businesses paid for Santoro to take 40 Abate pupils on a field trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. When the youngsters arrived, Santoro said, Fuccillo had called ahead and each of them was surprised with a gift package containing a baseball, a bat and other items.

Fuccillo then learned of the difficulty Niagara Street Elementary's principal, Paulette Mombert, was having finding more books for pupils to read in their quest to read a million words. He agreed to give a percentage of his October "Huge-A-Thon" car sales to the school for that purpose.

He also took a little back, so to speak, by using seven Niagara Street School pupils to advertise his "Huge-A-Thon" on television. The ad has been running all month.

Santoro said Jonathan Hamilton, Jasmine Ross, Kristofer Mena, Jasmine Coats, Samantha Ligammari, Sam Irish and Sarah Ligammari, a kindergarten pupil and Samantha's sister, are in the ad holding banners that say "Huge" and "Read Like a Champion."

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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