By Giselle Grassi
Many acts of kindness often go unnoticed nowadays; we don’t notice our own heroes very often. But I would like to bring to your attention a group of clever moms from Long Island who just so happened to take part in an enormous act of kindness. One of those moms is our very own math tutor, Mrs. Atsidis! Mrs. Atsidis and 13 other moms from Long Island have been working tirelessly to raise over $33,000 for The Morgan Center, a preschool for kids with cancer or other forms of a compromised immune system. Due to their acts of kindness, Ellen DeGeneres of “The Ellen Show” decided to fly these women out to LA for an experience of a lifetime.
This group of Long Island mothers consists of 14 moms who run obstacle races to raise money for The Morgan Center in Hicksville, NY. The team calls themselves YOLO, which, of course, is an acronym for “You Only Live Once.” After Ellen asked her New York viewers to “tell her their story, why they love New York, and why they love her show for the opportunity to experience a trip of a lifetime,” three hundred New Yorkers, including YOLO, were flown out to Los Angeles for a taping of “Ellen.”
But getting back to the preschool, The Morgan Center is in Hicksville, and it provides a safe and sterile environment for children with compromised immune systems. The story behind this life-changing school is truly inspiring, and it all started with a young girl named Morgan Zuch.
As a young child, Morgan Zuch was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and in addition to her struggles, and the use of chemotherapeutic treatment, she acquired a compromised immune system. This meant that Morgan was no longer able to interact with other children and that there was no school for Morgan to attend. Instead of going to preschool, Morgan would have to drive to the hospital and endure the pains of cancer, head-on. For the next two and a half years, Morgan spent her time with little to no interactions with the outside world; therefore, her lack of socialization resulted in time spent with therapists instead. Morgan was lucky enough to receive a tutor as a child, but that was as much of a preschool experience as she got.
Then one day while Morgan was at the doctor’s office, she began playing with another child who also had a suppressed immune system. That is when Morgan’s parents realized that it was okay for her to interact with other children. This resulted in the creation of The Morgan Center.
“We wanted to give young children battling cancer the preschool experiences that Morgan was deprived,” says Rod (Morgan’s Father, Co-Founder and President of THE MORGAN CENTER), and that is just what Rod and Miss Nancy (Morgan’s mother) did. “We give children back a part of their childhood that was taken away from them by cancer,” says Mrs. Nancy (Co-Founder, Director and Teacher at THE MORGAN CENTER).
The Morgan Center takes every precaution to make sure that the children enrolled stay healthy and safe. They do not permit children with cold symptoms to stay in the classroom; each child has his or her own supply box, hand holding and other interactions are minimized, and only members of the staff and the students are permitted to directly interact with classroom materials and supplies. But obviously these needs require funding, and that is exactly what YOLO provided for this outstanding organization. So much so that they were invited to “The Ellen Show.”
Originally, Ellen’s assistants contacted the leader of YOLO, Danie Taylor, by telephone ,and they told her that Ellen would fly eight group members out to California for a screening of her show, but there were 14 girls and it was too hard to choose. So, after Taylor told Ellen the news, Ellen reached out to her again and she flew all 14 women out to LA for an experience of a lifetime.
After speaking with Mrs. Atsidis about the environment of the Ellen show, she said, “It was exciting, fun and full of high energy.” Ellen even rewarded the women with Twelve Days of Giveaways in April! Mrs. A explained that Ellen was in a “riff-raff” room where YOLO was able to take pictures and speak with her. She described Ellen as being “kind and funny,” as she is on the show.
YOLO’s trip to “The Ellen Show” was an unexpected reward after many years of charity work. Danie Taylor started YOLO with a handful of women, and now the group consists of over thirty. Their main fundraiser, which helped the group raise over $33,000, was the 2016 Tough Mudder Race in New Jersey in October. YOLO competed in 10-12 miles of mud obstacles for this cause.
YOLO is planning to participate in the October City Challenge in Hoboken, New Jersey this coming October to raise more money for The Morgan Center. The goal for team YOLO is to eventually raise enough money to pay for all tuitions at The Morgan Center. After talking with Mrs. Atsidis, she said that “Danie chose The Morgan Center because it was local and she wanted to help the kids,” which is exactly what all 40 women are doing.
I was lucky enough to be friends with Morgan Zuch for a short period of time, and though she had a sick and painful childhood, she is a strong, kind, funny and smart young woman who has graduated Bay Shore High School and is currently studying at Marist College. She also rowed all throughout high school and is now a rower on the Marist Crew Team.
Thanks to people like Mrs. Astidis, Danie Taylor, and the rest of the women in YOLO, children who were as sick as Morgan was can potentially have just as bright of a future as she does now. There is no better feeling than providing a future for a young child and “just helping the kids,” as Mrs. Astidis says.
From everyone at Oyster Bay High School and The Harbour Voice: Congratulations, YOLO!