Rather than asking students to collect pennies, nickels or notecards, Kiss 98.5's annual High School Spirit Contest this year is asking donors to deposit change at Coinstar Machines at Tops Markets and to turn in the receipts on designated days.
The school that raises the most money will win a concert by Tyler Hilton. And all profits will be donated to Carly's Club, the pediatric fund-raising division of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It was founded by Carly Collard Cottone, who died of cancer at age 11 in 2002, after losing both of her parents to cancer.
"Carly's dad, Tony Cottone, was a non-smoking, amazing distance runner. He developed a cough that wouldn't go away. He died four days after being admitted to the hospital" in 1993 when Carly was only 2 1/2 years old, says CaroleAnn Collard, the relative who adopted Carly shortly before Carly's mother died.
Judie Cottone raised Carly alone for a few years, but then "started getting headaches" and discovered she had a brain tumor," Collard said. Collard and her husband adopted Carly before her mother died in 1998, when Carly was seven years old.
Then Carly "began to get headaches that wouldn't go away. We were shocked and devastated to learn she had brain cancer," Collard said. Carly had surgery and radiation treatment at Roswell and went into remission, "We thought she had beaten it," Collard said. But the cancer returned, and Carly died Aug. 16, 2002, a few weeks before she would have entered sixth grade at Casey Middle School.
During her three-year battle with cancer, "everyone was so wonderful to Carly, giving her gifts and toys, but she saw so many kids who weren't as lucky as she was," Collard said. "She came up with Carly's Club to help other kids. She didn't want people to feel sorry for her; she wanted to be her own person. Carly's Club became about the other kids."
Carly's Club started off with the support of a bunch of friends and neighbors. Mia Symoniak, a junior at Amherst Central, helped Carly's Club take off. "Carly moved in next door when I was 8, and after that, we just became best friends. She was always really upbeat about everything; even when she was sick, she was always smiling and laughing about something," Mia says.
Carly invited Mia on her Disney Cruise Make-A-Wish vacation: "It was awesome. We went all-out because Carly always did -- limo, chocolates on the pillow at night -- it was really fun."
"Then I went to see her in Boston when she had to go there for her treatments because her tumor came back for the last time," says Mia.
After four years, Carly's Club has raised more than $1 million. All child patients of Roswell Park are invited to become members. The club's activities for young Roswell Park patients include: a Halloween bash at the Buffalo Bills' Field House, a breakfast with Santa, a Six Flags Darien Lake outing, a spa and makeup party for girls (self-esteem programs), trips to Bills' training camp, a tie-dye party, sailing lessons, celebrity visits, tickets to sporting events and concerts, and more. "It has been an exciting year for kids and cancer research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. With over 240 members (pediatric patients), Carly's Club has been able to provide exciting programs and activities that allow kids and parents to interact with each other on a more social level. While it really helps the children get their minds off their diagnosis, these programs also allow parents to support one another," says Nicole Shepherd, manager of Pediatric Fundraising/Carly's Club.
Carly's Club's Great Big Carnival will be held June 11, at Dunn Tire Park. It includes all-you-can-eat ice cream, activities for the entire family and a concert by Seven Day Faith followed by a fireworks display. Tickets ($10 for adults, $5 for children) are available at the Dunn Tire Park box office and at Tops Markets.
For more information about the carnival, if you need volunteer hours, or if you just want to help a good cause, go to www.carlysclub.com or call 845-8788. Kiss 98.5's High School Spirit Contest continues to May 6. For details, go to www.kiss985.com.
Justine Januszkiewicz is a senior at Amherst Central High School.