Parade committee funds benefit Irish school

Rockville Centre's 'Parade that cares and shares' provides funds for a wheelchair-accessible swing


The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a big tradition in Rockville Centre, and part of what makes “the Parade that Cares and Shares” stand out is its year-round philanthropic commitment. Since its inception in March 1997, the event has helped raise more than $1.5 million for 75 local, national and Ireland-based charities.

Thanks to the community’s overwhelming generosity, the parade committee presented its 2023 charities — the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation, HELP Uganda, and the St. Laserian’s School — with checks for $60,000 each.

With the funding awarded to St. Laserian’s, in Carlow, Ireland, the committee, a charitable nonprofit organization, was able to do something extraordinary for children on the other side of the Atlantic.

St. Laserian’s serves special-needs students with a range of learning disabilities — many in wheelchairs — from six counties in Ireland. To provide equal opportunities for all of them, the school wanted to raise money to purchase and build a new adaptive swing set — one engineered with enough room to fit an electric wheelchair as well as an aide.

The school’s principal, Rachel Dolan, told the Carlow Nationalist, a weekly newspaper, that she got a call from Madeleine Conlon, of Rockville Centre, in August 2022, telling her about the parade’s fundraising efforts for Irish organizations and institutions like St. Laserian’s.

“I was on holiday when I received the phone call from Madeleine, and her kindness and that of the committee was fantastic,” Dolan said. “She explained that there was a rigorous application process. So I enlisted the help of the school’s deputy principal, Colleen Scully, and we worked through the rest of the summer ensuring the application was finished on time.”

Kieran Conlon, Madeleine’s son, is one of 15 board members with the parade committee. He was tasked with coordinating with the Irish school because of his familial ties there.

“I have a lot of relatives in that area,” Conlon said. “Incredibly, the school is located directly across from my grandmother’s childhood home.”

St. Laserian’s couldn’t afford such an expensive piece of playground equipment. Because the parade committee wasn’t certain how much money it could raise for the school, the school and the committee agreed that whatever it gave would go toward the down payment for the swing set.

“Thanks to Grand Marshal Tommy McNicholas, we blew away any prior year’s fundraising levels,” Conlon said. “We never guarantee or represent that we will raise a certain amount. I didn’t want to get their hopes up,” he added of St. Laserian’s, “but it wound up that they were able to accelerate (the project) because of the money.”

With the committee’s help, the school managed to cover the entire cost of the swing set. The project took longer than anticipated, however, Dolan explained, due to shipping issues after a cargo ship ran aground near the Suez Canal.

After more than a year of preparation, the project was finally completed in April, and the school invited representatives of the Rockville Centre parade committee to come and help celebrate the ribbon-cutting.

Anne Travers, the committee’s vice president, joined Conlon and fellow committee member Ann Marie Egan on the trip overseas to see the culmination of their yearlong fundraising efforts.

“We had zero expectations. We were just happy to see these folks again,” Travers said. “We were completely unprepared for what we walked into.”

As fate would have it, Conlon, Travers and Egan arrived at the school on April 18 — the day of the Feast of St. Laserian — and were greeted with signs and banners thanking both Rockville Centre and the parade committee for their generosity. School officials also unveiled a plaque commemorating the donation.

“They treated us like royalty,” Travers said. “They were so gracious. We were blown away.”

She added that the visitors were impressed not only with the presentation and the school’s students, but with its teachers and aides, who are expected to exude boundless energy throughout the school day.

“They have to be on from the minute they pull in to the minute they’re headed home,” Travers said. “They’re not allowed to have a bad day … They were the real heroes.”

She said that while there is a real need for such programs in Ireland, the school tries to limit its enrollment to about 140 children, to keep staff members from spreading themselves too thin.

Conlon said he was excited to watch the first student take a ride on the new swing, and immediately recognized how much the equipment would mean for children who would otherwise not be able to enjoy the playground with able-bodied students.

“This young student just lit up with excitement,” Conlon recounted. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.”

It meant a lot to see the committee’s fundraising efforts come to fruition, and he appreciated seeing the impact it would have on St. Laserian’s students for years to come.

“It’s important for the community to know,” Conlon said. “Many people don’t realize that our core mission is to raise money for these incredibly worthy charities, and how blessed we are to live in such an incredibly generous community.”