Miles for Matthew

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Left: Matthew Davidopoulos. Right: One of McAleese’s bracelets.

By Charlotte Redman
Staff Writer

Kathleen McAleese, a Westford Academy junior, is currently selling bracelets to help raise money to fund a handicap accessible van for Westford’s Davidopoulos family. Their son, Matthew, was diagnosed with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy in 2009.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy, according to Families of SMA, “…is a motor neuron disease. [It’s when] the motor neurons affect the voluntary muscles that are used for activities such as crawling, walking, head and neck control, and swallowing.”

Matthew cannot walk or sit up on his own and travels around in a power wheelchair which is accompanied by a great deal of medical equipment each time he leaves his house.

Matthew’s mother Courtney Davidopoulos said, “This van would be amazing for my family.  It would give us an opportunity to travel safely as a family and not have to choose outings […] Matthew is such a social kid and just loves being out and about. Matt is getting bigger and even harder to transfer from place to place and he needs to be in his wheelchair as much as possible to provide him with as much independence as possible.”

McAleese herself has experienced a loss to SMA, and it is the reason she has become so active in helping Matt’s family after hearing his story. Her cousin was diagnosed with Stage 1 SMA when he was an infant and passed away when he was 8 months old.

“It’s obviously really close to home, and my aunt who lost baby Jonathan is a huge supporter, [she’s] very charitable; my whole family is,” said McAleese.

McAleese was compelled to help in any way possible. She had the idea to make bracelets and sell them.

According to Davidopoulos, “She totally took it upon herself to get organized, gather the information, and get started. I only gave her the okay and Matt’s favorite color and then she ran with the rest. Very impressive.”

The bracelet’s are blue, say “Miles for Matthew,” and are being sold primarily at school for $2 each.

The Davidopoulos family hopes to raise a total of $35,000 for the van and $15,890 has been donated so far.

It can be challenging running a fundraising campaign like this one.

“A problem that I’ve come across is that I don’t have 700 hands, but I do have 700 bracelets and I’m scared that people aren’t going to know about it. Like if I get people to each take a bag around we can cover so much more ground than if I just sit in class with a bunch of bracelets where no one knows what they’re for,” said McAleese.

To advertise, McAleese is planning to get the word out via social media, posters, and speaking on the announcements in order to access the entire school. Friends who will be assisting her in the sales include Allie Skahen, Ally Mooney, Alex Morrison, Will O’Neal, and Emma Katz.

A benefit for the family will be hosted this Saturday from 7-12 P.M. at the VFW on 67 W Prescott Street. Each ticket is $10 and there will be food, raffles, and music.

McAleese will be attending the benefit and is planning to sell more bracelets. The price of the bracelets will be $3 at the fundraiser to maximize the profits. In the event of the Davidopoulos family reaching their goal, McAleese will likely donate any remaining money to Families of SMA, which is an organization that funds and directs the leading SMA research programs to develop a treatment and cure for the disease.

“Kathleen’s efforts to raise money really impressed me.  It seems rare that a young person reaches out to a total stranger and offers to help in such a way. It makes me happy that I am raising my kids in a town such as this where young men and women feel a calling to help others,” said Davidopolous.

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