Going The Extra Mile

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Families walk to raise awareness for cancer support center

Nancy holds hands with children attending The Morgan Center as they walk a mile for awareness. (Photo by Allison Eichler)

Moms and dads came with their children to the Town of Oyster Bay Hicksville Athletic Center, home of The Morgan Center, to “Go The Extra Mile 4 Kids With Cancer” last Monday, Sept. 24. Adorned with yellow balloons in honor of September being National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the athletic center’s gym was a hub of support and solidarity for The Morgan Center families who are battling pediatric cancer.

The walk was a kick-off celebration for the center’s new school year, welcoming both families from previous years and families enrolling their child for the first time. Nancy Zuch, co-founder of The Morgan Center, held hands with the children as they walked four laps around the gym to represent a mile.

“It brings us chills that we’ve come this far to help so many families,” Zuch said. “We’ve helped hundreds of families and we have a lot of new families that are coming, and to be able to be here and to kick-off our year in honor of childhood cancer awareness…we know this year is going to bring these families so much happiness and joy. It warms our hearts.”

The Morgan Center was co-founded in 2003 by Zuch and her husband, Rod, in honor of their daughter Morgan who underwent treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was just two-years-old. The current Marist College junior founded the center’s Go The Extra Mile walk four years ago.

Children ages 2 to 5 who are battling cancer come to the center to socialize, play games, make crafts and learn the basic skills they’ll need for kindergarten. This three-morning-per-week service is provided to families free-of-charge and, recognizing that children with cancer have compromised immune systems, welcomes siblings who are of the appropriate age to attend as well so they don’t bring home germs from another preschool.

John and Angelique Willet with their twins, Julianna and Johnny. This year will be their first at The Morgan Center. (Photo by Allison Eichler)

“This looks very promising,” said Angelique Willett, who participated in the mile with her husband, John, and their three-year-old twins Johnny, who was diagnosed with cancer in December, and Julianna, who are both beginning their first year at The Morgan Center. “To see [our children] this happy is very exciting for us. Their happiness means the world to us, so if they’re happy then we’re ecstatic.”

As part of the mile event, Team YOLO (You Only Live Once), composed of more than 70 women—after starting with just three people—who compete in obstacle courses and athletic races to raise money for children with serious illnesses, walked and trained for their upcoming City Challenge Race in New Jersey. A major benefactor for The Morgan Center, Team YOLO has raised more than $100,000 for the center’s activities.

“It’s the first preschool in the U.S. for children who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments,” said Dannie Taylor, who co-founded the Oyster Bay-based team six years ago, about why she supports The Morgan Center. “I wanted to start getting into obstacle course races and wanted to do it for a cause. Once I came in and saw these little angels, I just thought maybe we can do something to help.”

After completing the mile, parents gathered in the community room and looked on as their children enjoyed songs and guitar playing by one of the center’s teachers. A craft followed the sing-a-long, and each child was invited to take home a few toys donated to the center by the Lexiebean Foundation, an organization that supplies care packages and financial aid to pediatric cancer families.

“[The Morgan Center has] given her new friends that are like her, also friends that don’t have hair like her. It’s given her something to look forward to, a purpose to wake up every morning, get dressed, get her stuff ready. It’s just made her feel like a regular kid,” said Jennifer Tarazona, whose four-year-old daughter, Olivia, has been fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, just as Morgan Zuch did, since November.

Families and Morgan Center staff cheer after having walked a mile to raise awareness. (Photo by Tammy Severino)

As the activities winded down, families were all smiles as they enjoyed lunch.

“Any reason to pull these families together and have a celebration is really important,” Zuch said.

To learn more about The Morgan Center, visit www.themorgancenter.org.

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