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Malverne goes gold for Pediatric Cancer Awareness this month

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The Village of Malverne hopes to start a new September tradition. Inspired by its neighboring village, Rockville Centre, the village turned the water in its Hempstead Avenue fountain gold in honor of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. There will be a tree lighting near the fountain on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. to support the Mary Ruchalski Foundation.

“The Mary Ruchalski Foundation is a real integral part of raising awareness and funds for pediatric cancer,” Malverne Mayor Keith Corbett during the village’s Sept. 2 board meeting.

Mary Ruchalski, of Rockville Centre, a seventh-grader at St. Agnes Cathedral School, died of cancer in March 2018, just two days before her 13th birthday.

“The foundation is trying to step up its awareness campaign,” said her mother, Carol, the organization’s director. “We reached out to other villages and to several high schools, and provided them with gold lights if they promise to light them every year.”

Last year, a tree in Rockville Centre’s village green was decorated with gold lights, and a ceremony honored those affected by pediatric cancer. This year, trees will be lit gold in four other villages — Malverne, East Williston, Mineola and Williston Park — as well as at two area high schools, to bring awareness to the disease.

Malverne Village Trustees Lauren Touchard and Tim Sullivan have both raised the cause with the village board. “It’s really an important event that we look forward to recognizing and assisting in any way we can,” Corbett said.

Ruchalski said she wanted a special way to honor her daughter. “Mary and I always loved Christmas, and we wanted to do something different, so I had the idea of lighting a tree,” she said. “Everyone has a tree in their village, and when no other lights are on and people see a gold tree, they’ll take notice.”

Finding strings of gold lights wasn’t easy, she said, but the foundation was able to provide 2,500 to 3,000 lights to each participating village. The foundation lit the tree in Rockville Centre on Sept. 1, another in East Williston the following night and a third in Mineola on Sept. 3. Williston Park’s tree lighting will take place at a date to be determined. Trees will also be lit at Kellenberg Memorial High School, in Uniondale, and Sacred Heart Academy, in Hempstead.

“If this takes off, I think it will be a really great fundraiser,” Ruchalski said. “I’m thrilled that so many people jumped on the bandwagon.”

New to the awareness campaign this year are luminarias, weighted paper bags with battery-operated tea lights that will decorate participating neighborhoods. Rockville Centre resident Jaime Madden said she had heard about their use elsewhere, and was struck by the image. She said she had always felt connected to the Ruchalski family and to Mary’s story, and suggested the luminarias to her mother.

“I thought it would be a nice way to raise awareness, bring the community together and raise funds,” Madden said. “It’s mind-boggling to me that the research is so lacking for pediatric cancer, and the medications used for treatment are the same as they were using decades ago. My vision is that it will be a beautiful way to . . . bring money to the Mary Ruchalski Foundation.”

The idea caught on quickly. Madden said that within 24 hours of posting on social media, she had nearly 40 inquiries from people wanting to participate. The residents of nearly 50 blocks in Rockville Centre have committed to lighting up their streets by placing the luminarias on their curbs Sept. 18 to 20 (rain date Sept. 25 to 27). For longer blocks, she said, people can team up. For example, three mothers have formed a team to light up Harvard Avenue.

“The response to this campaign has been really amazing,” Madden said.

“I’m blown away that in these hard times, the whole community is coming together,” Ruchalski said. “It’s such a tribute to Mary.”