By AIMEE LOCKHARDT
Special to the Sunday Citizen
ROCHESTER — For the teachers at the William Allen School, giving back and being involved in the community is part of the lesson plan.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, students held a fundraiser at the Lilac Mall for Bella Tucker, a 9-year-old from Londonderry who underwent a quadruple amputation after she was stricken with a potentially fatal infection.
Tucker caught Streptococcus Pneumonia Sepsis on Easter Sunday and suddenly went into a coma. After five days she came through, but the doctors found that the infection had caused such extensive damage to the tissue in her hands and legs that they had to amputate.
Fourth and fifth graders from William Allen helped sell baked goods that parents and staff members made. All proceeds will go to the Bella Tucker fund, which will help the Tucker family with any financial issues that may arise in the future.
Gwen Pham was the mastermind behind the idea. Pham is a board director on the State Parent-Teacher Association, where they were asked for help raising awareness about Tucker's situation. Pham felt it would be a good project for students to tackle, and when it was brought to the student advisory group, they eagerly agreed to participate.
Jenn Jilman, a fourth-grade teacher at William Allen and head of the advisory group, said she wasn't surprised when the kids jumped at the chance.
"They're always doing community service," she said. "They're caring, not selfish and eager to make a difference. I'm proud of them."
Assistant Principal Kathleen Crosby agreed, calling the students "shining examples of what we want all our kids to be."
There were about eight children volunteering throughout the day along with their parents. Some students had sports events to go to, but still managed to take the time out of their day to volunteer, like Megan Lange, 10.
"I felt really sad for her and really wanted to help out," she said. "It's good to help out people who have a bad disease like that so they can get special care."
Tucker's community recently had her house remodeled so it would be wheelchair accessible and better equipped for her. It was a $400,000 remodeling at no cost. It included amenities like automatic toilets and faucets.
While Tucker's recovering and adjusting to her new life, her mother has to stay home with her, which will mean less income for the family of seven.
Pham explained that, in the long run, just to keep up the house and put Tucker through therapy will cost the family quite a bit of money.
"It's just surface stuff so far," Pham said of the changes being made to help Tucker adjust. "A month later people will forget, but the financial troubles will still be there. Any help now will probably be appreciated by her and her family."
While the students and people involved in the fundraiser don't know Bella personally, Pham said it provided a good lesson for the students.
"For them to understand kids can help other kids," Pham said, is what she'd like for the students to take away from the experience. "A kid in need doesn't have to be from the same school or community."
Crosby expanded on that.
"The school as a whole is about community," she explained. "It shows how students and families not only care about their community but others around — and what greater way to show that than to put it into action."
But there is something else the students have learned from Tucker's story — "to be strong like her," Jillian Mourgenos, 10. "She's strong through it all."