Students at Warwick Neck’s The Learning Garden got their groove on Thursday morning, all in the name of supporting a classmate and The Matty Fund.
Fourteen students in the school’s preschool program put on their best crazy hats for the Matty Hatty Dance-A-Thon. The students and their families collected donations for the event and planned to dance for 30 minutes. They ended up dancing for close to an hour, with only a short water break.
Executive Director of The Matty Fund George Donnelly, who was at the event, explained that dance-a-thons to benefit The Matty Fund have been held at schools throughout Rhode Island since February, and close to 10,000 students have taken part.
“It started out as a celebration for [Matty’s] birthday [which was in February], but it grew into a fundraiser and epilepsy awareness event,” explained Donnelly. “It’s less about the money and more about the outreach.”
All of the funds raised for The Matty Fund go towards supporting children living with epilepsy and their families.
The Learning Garden participated in the annual fundraiser in honor of Emily Vecchio, a 4-year-old student in the program who lives with epilepsy. Emily was diagnosed at 13 months old, and it took almost a year to get her settled on medication. Her mother Brenda recalls doctors describing Emily as living in a “drunken state” for the year; as a result, some of Emily’s motor skills have not developed at the rate of others her age. Although she is 4, her development is closer to that of a 2-year-old.
“We were so fortunate to find The Matty Fund. They are just fantastic with the outreach they do,” said Brenda, adding the organization’s support group is very helpful. “You talk to friends and family here or there, but to have an hour and a half, two hours of talking with people going through what you are going through is special.”
The Vecchio family’s experience with The Learning Garden has also been special. The students are aware of Emily’s condition and are always willing to help their friend.
“We have to tell them if Emily falls, you have to let her get back up herself. They just want to help her,” said Brenda.
When schools participate in Matty Hatty Dance-A-Thons, the teachers receive materials to teach their students about epilepsy, including the picture book, “My Friend Matty,” written by Matthew Siravo’s parents, Debra and Rich. The Matty Fund was named in honor of Siravo, who died at five years old after a prolonged seizure.
When teaching young students such as preschoolers, epilepsy is explained in the simplest terms.
“When you go to sleep, your brain goes to sleep, but sometimes when you’re playing, your brain wants to go to sleep,” said Donnelly.
They also do not tell the students Siravo passed away due to his epilepsy because it is not a common occurrence.
“The real message is acceptance. It’s accepting people for who they are and whatever their medical condition is,” said Donnelly.
The Learning Garden owner Raquel Rei said the school raised close to $100 for the event, but she hopes to continue raising money for The Matty Fund in other ways.