Rockville Centre hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day festivities on all of Long Island, and this year was no different. Despite the wind and rain, hundreds of people gathered on March 25 to celebrate Irish heritage and culture while promoting community pride, family values, and supporting charities.
In the spirit of the festivities, retired FDNY firefighter, John Atwell, and his wife, Ellen, started an annual fundraiser in 2008, known as St. Atty’s Day, to help give back to the Lead the Way Foundation for the U.S. Army Rangers and The Navy Seal Foundation.
Inspired by the efforts of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charitable organization that they have been involved with for many years, they decided to host their own event paying respect to the military with marathon challenges and mountain climbing events.
This year, however, at the request of their son Liam, they instead chose to honor Chicago police officer and U.S. Army veteran Daniel Golden, who was paralyzed after being shot in the back while trying to break up a fight.
The Atwell’s said that Liam’s encounter with Golden’s brother during his time in boot camp was not an accident, but a divine connection between the two families who are both part of the military and first responder communities.
Liam said that he knew his parents would one day arrange a fundraiser for Golden, but he was not aware that they were planning to honor him while he was busy spending five weeks training with the U.S. Army rangers.
Thanks to the help of local friends and law enforcement agencies, Golden was given a hero’s welcome from Port Authority Police, FDNY, NYPD, and the Atwell family when he arrived at LaGuardia Airport for the event. He was also presented with an American flag for his service and was given a full NYPD escort to the parade.
Golden and six other members of the Chicago Police Department marched alongside the Malverne Police Department, during the RVC St. Patrick’s Day Parade, right behind musicians with FDNY Emerald Pipes and Drum.
More than 800 people attended the fundraiser at the Atwell’s home. Following a performance of “God Bless America,” and an inspirational speech from Navy Seal Rob O’Neill, everyone celebrated with a special performance by musical talent, Jerry and The Newcomers.
During the fundraiser on March 25, John Atwell arranged a meeting between Golden and NYPD Police Officer Steven McDonald’s son, Conor.
McDonald, a former Navy Hospital Corpsman and third-generation NYPD police officer was shot in the line of duty in 1986, leaving him a quadriplegic. Following the incident he promoted a message of forgiveness, and founded the Breaking the Cycle program, to promote nonviolent conflict resolution. He died on Jan. 10, 2017, at the age of 59.
He has been memorialized with a street renaming in 2014, at the corner of Maple Avenue and Madison Avenue in Rockville Centre, where the former police station was located. His legacy has also been carried on by the New York Rangers hockey club, which has presented the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award each year since the 1987 – 1988 hockey season.
Atwell said he was grateful for the big turnout because it was a very rainy day. He added despite the weather people wanted to support the efforts to help Golden.
Proceeds raised will go to benefit the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, which is an organization that helps build homes for catastrophically injured veterans and first responders like Golden.
Retired FDNY firefighter John Sheehan, who worked with Atwell in Brooklyn, said he refers to the annual fundraiser as “Heroes Helping Heroes,” which was a phrase created by his wife to sum up the Atwells’ dedication to all military and first responders.
Sheehan, who assisted families by providing transportation, said that John Atwell’s coordination of the annual fundraiser makes him a hero. He adds, that it is a testament to the power of community and the strength of the human spirit.