DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — They’re young pals who are improving the world of cancer patients, one gift card at a time.
Piscataquis Community Secondary School students Samantha Jo Brawn, 14, and Elaine Riitano, 15, both of Sangerville, on Wednesday donated 25 $25 gift cards to the Oncology Department at Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft to help cancer patients with transportation costs to and from the hospital for treatment.
That’s just a start, say the honor roll students, whose lofty goals include developing a support group for children who have cancer or who have a loved one suffering from the disease. They also said they plan to donate many more gift cards in the future.
‘’We both have been touched by cancer in our lives between an aunt and a grandmother, and we wanted to help patients locally by buying gas cards just to help out a little bit,’’ Riitano said Wednesday of their first project. Riitano’s aunt Peggy Genoa and Brawn’s grandmother Janice Carle both died of complications from the disease.
It was while the girls were enrolled in a working student program at Infinity Horse Farm in Dover-Foxcroft, where they work with horses for part of the day in exchange for a free riding lesson, that the idea of helping cancer victims took root.
‘’We began just swapping stories in just how it impacted our lives,’’ Brawn said, referring to cancer. ‘’We wanted to do something to help change it because it is affecting a lot of people’s lives, not just ours.’’
After brainstorming ideas, Riitano said, they decided to host a barn dance and silent auction with the blessing of Gail and Chris McCormack of Infinity Farm. Through the generosity of local businesses — especially McKusick Petroleum, which provided seed money for the dance, and Bob’s Hardware, which donated several items for the silent auction — more than a $1,000 was raised at the event. After paying off expenses, including the band, the girls ended with $620.
The girls called Lisa Murray, a registered nurse who is the oncology coordinator at Mayo, to inquire about the best use of the funds. She suggested the $25 gift cards since many patients have long distances to travel, including from Jackman and Wellington. Murray said Wednesday she will dispense the cards to those in financial need and who have to travel far for treatment.
‘’It’s great that they have so many to give us to start with,’’ Murray said of the gift cards. ‘’Patients are going to be very thankful.’’
On Wednesday, the girls got to meet Jo-Ann Gould of Wellington, who travels about 50 miles round trip to the hospital for treatment. Gould, who suffers from lymphoma and had just finished treatment, was presented a floral bouquet from the students to brighten her day.
‘’’Oh, I think it’s wonderful,’’ Gould said, after learning what the girls had donated. ‘’It helps so many people so much because of the price of gas today.’’ She said her cancer went into remission a while back but has since returned, resulting in another round of chemotherapy treatments.
Tom Lizotte, the hospital’s director of marketing and development, called the students’ gift a ‘’wonderfully generous gesture.’’ While the hospital has received many donations over the years from families of people who have received cancer treatment at Mayo, Lizotte said he couldn’t remember two teenagers ever taking on a project for the department and following through. ‘’That’s a lot of money,’’ he said.
While Riitano and Brawn are pleased with the gratitude, they said they feel good touching the hearts of others and they don’t plan to stop anytime soon. Their goal is to raise double the amount during their next dance — and possibly a rodeo — next summer. Riitano and Gould also are working to start a regular gatherings at Infinity Farm for children afflicted by cancer. They envision the sessions might be attended by a counselor who could help the children cope with their feelings.
Those efforts were applauded by Lizotte. ‘’It restores your faith — that anyone who says negative things about young people really should talk to those two girls,’’ he said.