23 Aug 2014
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Young LEGO Lovers Build for a Good Cause

Star Ships, Pirate Ships and Castles Are Built to Benefit Cancer Care of Connecticut.

If a combination of nimble fingers, perseverence and love of LEGOs could prevent or cure cancer, then 275 young builders would be real-life heroes and heroines.

That's how many LEGO lovers assembled kits for display at Fairfield Ludlowe High School on Saturday to raise money to help children cope with cancer.

Cancer Care for Kids, a project of Cancer Care of Connecticut, sponsored the "Blocks of Love" fundraiser by calling on area children to build the LEGO kit of their dreams and sign on donors to their online websites.

Before the public viewing of the 275 displays in the high school gym on Saturday morning the drive had already raised more than $69,000. The event is in its second year.

(The event was not sponsored by LEGO, but it has the imprimatur of the children's toy maker, according to Cancer Care board member and volunteer Annette Gosselin.)

All 275 LEGO kits were donated anonymously by a Fairfield family, in addition to another several hundred which were put on sale at the event.

Each "builder" was given a kit of his or her choice for free and directed to build it and then encourage family and friends to pledge donations. The kits sell at retail in a range of $20 to $500, said Cindy Citrone, a busy volunteer.

Each builder had to fill out a form identifying his or her piece and explaining why he or she decided to build it.

Most explained in simple language that it was cool to do something they love while at the same time helping others.

But for some, the reason they were participating struck closer to home.

"I have cancer and I want to help other kids with cancer," wrote Kennedy Snyder, 10, who built a piece called "Buzz Light Year in Space" inspired by a children's film, "Toy Story 3."

Kennedy was diagnosed with a tumor in her spinal cord at age 2 when her family was living in Fairfield, said her mother, Kristy. Now Wilton residents, they are facing down an ominous resurgence of the tumor and are shortly to join an immunotherapy trial.

Kennedy's mother, amazingly upbeat, said she was happy to speak about her daughter's illness "because it helps other people."

She said she was drawn to Cancer Care of Connecticut because the agency, which provides free support services for children suffering from cancer or who have family members ill with cancer, "is all about making things fun and upbeat."

"This is how we strive to deal with it," she said.

Nearby was an intricate LEGO display called "Grand Emporium" created by Mark Galle, a fifth grader.

"I built this because  my Dad has cancer," his display read.

Christopher Cirilli, 9, constructed "Brick Beard's Bounty," a pirate ship, and "Imperial Flagship," flying the Union Jack.

He explained why in his display: "My friend Teddy died of a rare cancer this year. Teddy was feeling better but he died a few days after. That is why I built this."

Inspired by the Harry Potter series, Alex Biondo, 10, constructed "Hogwarts Express." He wrote the following:

"This LEGO display is dedicated to Grandpa Buddy, my Uncle Tony and my neighbor, Stacy. They fought a great fight with cancer."

Michael Wangle, 11, echoed a similar theme, as he expressed it in the statement alongside his "Fire Boat":

"I want to help my family members and friends who are battling cancer."

All would have agreed with Andrew Ellis, 8, builder of "Hogwarts castle," who wrote: "It is a great cause."

"I want kids to be healthy," was the sentiment expressed by Michael, 5, who omitted his last name from his tow truck piece.

Apart from having a good reason to play with LEGOs, many of the more experienced builders loved the engineering  challenge.

Madison Lee, 10, took on the carousel, a kit with more than 1,000 pieces recommended for those 16 years of age and older.

Once assembled, with a motor, gears, wiring and batteries, it really does act like a carousel, with horses gracefully moving up and down to music.

It took her two weeks to build and already she's raised $1,900.

Jacob Rodier, 12, was busy building the same carousel at his own display table behind a sign calling himself a "Master Builder." It was to be raffled at the end of the event.

"I've been building LEGOs since I was 2," he said. The project will count as a good deed for his bar mitzvah, he said.

Neither Isaac Liu, 9,  nor his brother Ian, 6, was available for comment, but their joint project, "Battle on the High Seas," pretty much spoke for itself.

It was a dramatic scene, with a pirate ship all aflame, listing to one side, and missing a few LEGO blocks to intimate cannonfire damage from the attacking vessel.

What seemed like miles of LEGO constructs, filling the gym, included many pirate ships, castles, bridges, streetscapes, and Star Wars-inspired spaceships.

Lisa Cannella, regional director of Cancer Care Connecticut, was thrilled at the enormous turnout of builders and their families as well as wannabe builders who heard about the event too late to participate.

She said her agency helped 3,600 individuals and families, at no cost, last year.

The greater number are children who have a family member stricken with cancer.

"They can be even more stressed than if they have the disease themselves," she said.

"They love their sibling, but at the same time can become angry because all the family attention is focused on the child suffering from the disease," she said.

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