VUHS seniors raise $6,000 for hospital in annual walk-a-thon

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School class of 2012 set a new fund-raising record for the seniors’ annual walk for charity this week, when on Tuesday the class presented a check for more than $6,000 to the Child Life Services program at Burlington’s Vermont Children’s Hospital, a division of Fletcher Allen Health Care.
Almost all the seniors gathered pledges for a walk of about 13 miles that was completed in stages on Oct. 4, 5 and 11. Ferrisburgh firefighters escorted the walkers in a department utility truck and a vehicle volunteered by a cadet.
Five seniors — Daisy Alexander, David Clancy, Julian Hattler, Austin Nary and Ben Parsons — on Oct. 4 ran the whole 25-mile distance to the hospital, with an escort from VUHS drivers’ education teacher Sandy Chicoine and Ferrisburgh resident Gary Lange on bicycles.
The money the class raised exceeded the roughly $5,000 collected a year ago by the class of 2011. That money went to support Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center in honor of the 15 military veterans who live there, and to three local families, two of whom with young cancer patients and a third with a student who had been injured in a fall from a horse.
This year’s total brings the four-year take from the efforts of the VUHS senior classes to more than $20,000. Earlier donations went to diabetes and breast cancer programs at Porter Hospital, and each time the classes had walked from VUHS to Porter in stages.
Every year for the past four falls seniors have walked, gathered pledges and donated to a community service project while VUHS juniors take mandatory standardized tests.
This year marked the first donation to a program not affiliated with Porter. Faculty adviser Lee Shorey said there are several connections between the VUHS community and the Child Life Services program, many through the family of VUHS teacher Becca Coffey.
Coffey’s daughter Charlotte was a cancer patient who was treated at Children’s Hospital and benefited from Child Life services. Her older brother, Jack, a VUHS junior, also was treated for cancer there when he was younger. Shorey said he spoke to the senior class about what a great cause it was, and that he donated his birthday money to the class.
Becca Coffey also shared her experiences at a class pep rally, and Charlotte and Jack’s father, Cory Coffey, pledged a dollar for every student who walked.
Shorey said the class also learned during the process that the hospital had more of an impact on them collectively than they realized.
“Many of them have personally either been treated by the Vermont Children’s Hospital or know a child that has,” she said.
According to the program’s website (http://fletcherallenblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/514/) Child Life Services staff “work with patients and their families to … provide opportunities for children to grow and develop normally while in the hospital, we prepare patients and families for procedures, and we help them cope with all aspects of their health care experiences.”
Services include preparation for patients and siblings to help them “understand and cope with upcoming medical procedures and health care experiences;” education in “coping skills to help children control pain, deal with anxiety, or cope with medical procedures;” emotional support for pediatric patients and families; “medical and therapeutic play;” and “end of Life and bereavement support.”
Shorey said as well as the satisfaction of supporting a good cause, the fundraising process and the walk itself teaches seniors valuable skills.   
“Approaching face-to-face the public is a learning experience for all of them,” she said. “Also, they are doing their part by walking despite adversity — weather, traffic, etc.”
On Oct. 4 more than 80 seniors walked from a point on Greenbush Road to Shelburne Orchard, and on the next day from Shelburne Orchard to Overlook Park on Spear Street, where class photos were taken. They walked the final leg this past Tuesday and presented the check to hospital officials, plus donated Vermont Teddy Bears to patients.
Students were also rewarded with ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s, but Shorey — one of many faculty member who supported the class — said the effort mostly provided its own reward.
“The students walked through traffic as a bonded group with so much enthusiasm,” she said.
Shorey said this year’s success should even further cement the senior walk as a fixture on the VUHS calendar.
“This event (has) become a … tradition where one class tries to outdo the other,” she said. “The whole school is supporting the achievement of this class, and I am asked questions about it by middle school students and older students wanting to know how they can start organizing and thinking about their walk-a-thons.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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