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Auction of student-made quilt to be part of evening planned to raise funds for teacher's injured son

Date: 1/18/2010

Jan. 18, 2010

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Managing Editor

HAMPDEN - There was an orange cat, a red reindeer, a pair of multi-color dogs kissing under a Peter Max-style heart, a giant snowman, a smiling face, a pair of long-necked yellow giraffes . these were just a few of the 25 happy pictures students in Ellen Collins' second grade class at Green Meadows Elementary School sketched on squares of fabric.

With help from special education teacher Darlene Maconi and Wilbraham Junior Women's League volunteers Marie Aquilino and Cindy Sparago, these budding artists spent last Monday morning stitching together their creations to help raise money for Collins' son, who was severely injured in a motorcycle accident just a week before school started.

The brightly colored quilt fashioned from their handiwork will be one of the silent auction items showcased at the upcoming "Magic for Michael" fundraiser, slated for Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hampden Country Club. Though tickets have gone quickly, there are still some available. The price is $40 per person.

Proceeds from the evening will help the Collins family retrofit their home and purchase a special handicapped-equipped van and other equipment for their 30-year-old son, Michael.

"He was just a mile from the house when it happened," Ellen Collins said of the Aug. 13 accident in East Longmeadow that left her son paralyzed from the shoulders down and damaged his right hand. "It's the call you never want to get as a parent."

"We started immediately . our Green Meadow family knew they had to come together to help Mrs. Collins," third grade teacher Darlene Scott said of the school's many projects to help their fellow teacher, including the fundraiser. "This event, [however] has taken on a life of its own, really."

Among the activities planned for the evening are music and dancing, a sit-down dinner, a strolling magician performing during cocktail hour, a gift basket raffle and the silent auction, featuring items that range from restaurant gift certificates and theater tickets to a three-month membership at the YMCA and a handcrafted table donated by a Green Meadows parent.

"We went out to get prizes and baskets from local businesses in Hampden, East Longmeadow, Wilbraham and Springfield," Scott said, adding that the community had been very generous.

The quilt, a brainchild of Maconi, was a way to have Collins' students participate in the fundraiser for their teacher's family in a hands-on, personal way.

"Darlene approached me about the project and we brainstormed about what we could do," art teacher Carol Gauthier said. "We decided on happy pictures and we talked to the children about what kind of art would make people happy."

The kids took to the project eagerly, drawing their best designs on fabric squares with Crayola fabric markers. School volunteer Fran Brown helped Gauthier and Maconi to organize the project.

"It was really fun, and we all got to build something for someone," said second grader Chase Konostantakos after finishing his turn at the sewing machine and ironing board.

"Hopefully it will bring in a lot of money," Gauthier said. She added that it would be nice if whomever purchased the quilt either donated back to the school or gave it to Michael.

Collins said her son, who has been home from Spalding Rehabilitation Center in Boston since mid-November, is planning to attend the fundraiser. "He's looking forward to it," she said. "He's been just blown away by how generous people he doesn't know have been. He's so grateful."

Anyone interested in purchasing one of the remaining tickets for the Feb. 5 fundraiser can call Diane Scott at 566-3098. Scott said she is still accepting donations of additional raffle and auction prizes as "we have almost [three] weeks to go."

Anyone interested in making a monetary donation to help the family with their renovations and special needs purchases can send a check, made payable to Ellen & Mike Collins, to the Freedom Credit Union, 1976 Main St., Springfield, MA, 01103.