Oceanside mourns Ava Salonia, who lost battle against leukemia


The Oceanside community is mourning the death of Oceanside High School sophomore Ava Salonia, who lost a hard-fought battle against cancer on Aug. 17.

The 16-year-old was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, in September 2022. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy in the months that followed, while awaiting a bone marrow transplant. She received a transplant in February, but a month later, a biopsy showed the presence of leukemic cells.

Remembered as a model student and athlete, Ava touched the lives of many who knew her, and is survived by hundreds of loved ones and supporters. “Ava’s Army,” a Facebook group of more than 500 friends and loved ones, was created to support the Salonia family during her battle.

“Ava was the sweetest, most wonderful 16-year-old around,” said Dina Ewashko, whose daughter, Julianna, has been friends with Ava since first grade. “All the younger kids looked up to her like a big sister. The younger girls who were interested in lacrosse, she would help and practice with.”

Shortly after her diagnosis, nearly 600 community members took part in a color run fundraiser for the Salonia family in Baldwin Park last October. In May, the Oceanside junior varsity lacrosse team dedicated an 8-3 victory over the Lynbrook Owls to Ava, who was a lacrosse player along with her sister, Ella. Despite her illness, Ava remained a dedicated member of the Oceanside team, attending practices and keeping the team’s book.

“Her strength and her courage throughout her battle inspired so many in the school community,” said School Superintendent Phyllis Harrington.

Throughout the year, Ava’s Army documented Ava’s battle and, along with local businesses, raised money to help the Salonia family cover the costs of treatment Ava received at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens.

Members of the Facebook group created T-shirts reading “Ava’s Army,” along with encouraging words of “love,” “hope” and “strong.”

Ava’s friend, Rachel Dube, as a part of her mitzvah project, collected old sports equipment at Temple Avodah on Sunday, Aug. 27, to be purchased and resold by a sporting goods company, Play it Again Sports. All money earned went directly to the Salonia family. EGP Oceanside will donate all proceeds from their Oct.9 Fall Festival to the Salonia family.

“She was a special kid, their was no one who didn’t like Ava,” said Jen Gemmo, who’s daughter Samantha was best friends with Ava.

After her wake, more than 100 Oceanside residents and friends attended a candlelight vigil outside Towers Funeral Home in Oceanside to honor Ava. Ava’s lacrosse teammates paid tribute to their friend as the sound of the Taylor Swift song, “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” played in the background. Swift was Ava’s favorite artist, and the soundtrack was created to include her favorite songs.

“The whole idea of this was to be a beautiful tribute to Ava and a way for people to come together to honor her, but also to show love to her family and her friends,” one Ava’s Army member, who helped organize the vigil, said.

The weekend after her death, the front porches of dozens of homes were lit in orange lights, representing the color for leukemia awareness. Throughout her treatment, eight of Ava’s closest friends would get together and visit her every chance that they got, whether at her home or in the hospital.

“Everyone loved to be with her,” said Rosemary Olenick, whose daughter Emma has been friends with Ava since kindergarten.

“She always took everything in stride and always had a smile on her face. She knew it was tough but always had so much optimism about it.”

Diane Moore, who was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer two years ago, was able to be a voice of empathy to Ava and her family. Moore made a photo album for Ava on her birthday on June 5.

“For a child to have to go through that, the kid never showed that she was hurting or that she was suffering,” said Moore, whose daughter, Madison, was Ava’s friend for years. “I’ve never witnessed an angel on this Earth like we all saw within her.”

“She brought us all together,” said Madison. “Are entire group of friends made it a point to hangout.”

In her memory, Ava’s Army has planned several initiatives, including a lacrosse scholarship at Oceanside High School. The group also hopes to create the “Love Ava Project” with Cohen Children’s Medical Center, which came about after a group member, Marcella Abbott, visited Ava a few weeks ago at the hospital.

Abbott’s business, The Glamping Party Company, creates makeup bags, and Abbott filled a bag with makeup kits and party stickers for Ava to decorate. Ava loved it and made bags for her friends, mom, sisters and nurses who treated her. On the back of each bag, her mother wrote, “Love Ava,” so they knew it came from her.

“It allowed her to do something easy and gave her a sense of normal, but the best part about it was all she wanted to do was make gifts for everyone,” Abbott said.

The goal is to send the bags to Cohen Children’s Medical Center, so other children can find as much joy as Ava did in creating them. For every bag purchased through Abbott’s company, a bag will be donated to the hospital floor where Ava received her treatment. All money would go to Ava’s pending scholarship and the Salonia family.

“Anything to make these kids smile, and keep them occupied, and take their minds off of their treatment and their illness,” Abbott said. “Ava’s name will be remembered in those hallways and Oceanside forever.”

Ava is survived by her mother, Jessica, her father, Ralph, and younger sisters, Ella, 15, and Angie, 12. Funeral services were held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside on Aug. 22.