Pilgrim students discover it's easy to learn spirit of giving


Being developmentally disabled doesn’t stop Fall River resident Cymry Costa, 38, from giving to those in need during the Christmas season and having a jolly time while doing so.

She, along with her brother, Johnathan, visited 400 students at Pilgrim High School last Friday morning for a special spectacular, at which Cymry gave them toys and told them to share them with less fortunate children.

“I like to help sad people,” Cymry said following the presentation. “It makes me feel good.”

At the event, a video was shown telling Cymry’s life story. She was born with brain damage, cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. Doctors said she wouldn’t walk or talk and encouraged her parents, John and Cheryl, who attended the event, to institutionalize her. Against doctors’ advice, they didn’t and she was able to walk by the time she was four.

“She was always making noises as a baby so we knew she would talk,” said Cheryl said.

John said, “We can’t stop that mouth now.”

On Friday, Cymry and her helpers tossed out toys to the crowd from the auditorium stage and invited students up to collect bags full of candy and popcorn. A handful of students found silver snowflake tickets in their bags and were given additional treats. Among them was senior Sydney Simas, 17, who generously gave her sweets to other students, taking the point of Cymry’s visit to heart. She was asked to go up to the stage for even more candy.

The assembly amazed students and teachers alike, including a developmentally disabled senior, Alex Burniston, 19.

“I liked learning about everything she’s been through over the years,” he said. “It made my heart feel open.”

Four sophomore girls also thought Cymry’s mission was touching.

“It makes us want to help,” said Madison Tyrell, 15.

Emily Degnan, 15, agreed and said, “It’s really sweet of her.”

Megan Wilks, 15, said, “It makes me realize how fortunate we are and how we can help others.”

Lauren Wade, 15, felt the same and said, “I think the fact that she gives to schools is amazing.”

Other students were also in awe of the assembly. Freshman Rob Ciaramello, 15, said he had a lot of fun.

“It’s a great experience,” said Rob.

Senior Jin Zhang, 17, participated in the event on Friday, as well as last year. He said it was welcoming, as he moved to Rhode Island from New York at the time.

“It gets everyone together and brings people joy,” Jin said.

Beginning in 2003, Cymry began visiting schools, as well as nursing homes. Since last year, she has given out more than 2,000 gifts. Any money raised is deposited into a college fund to benefit students with disabilities.

Seniors in Alison Wallace’s Urban Sociology class, who opened the celebration with an interpretive dance that Johnathan taught them, enjoyed taking part in it. Last week, they helped share the spirit of giving when they visited the home of Warwick resident Dan Cunningham set up a mini village of 210 ceramic houses in his two-car garage, located at 270 Squantum Drive in Governor Francis Farms. The winter wonderland runs through Jan. 8 and visitors are welcome daily from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Acting Principal Marie Cote said she is proud of the students and reminded them of their school motto, “We are bigger than ourselves.”

“Cymry’s Wish fits right into that,” she said. “It’s all about paying it forward and they can bring the toys home, wrap them up and give their younger siblings or neighbors a gift.”

Since starting the giving campaign, Cymry has been featured on Channel 10, as well as the Today Show. In 2005, she earned the Fall River Hometown Hero award, as well as a citation from a State Representative. In 2006 she got the Massachusetts Distinguished Citizens Award. By 2007, she was presented the Jefferson Award, a national award for outstanding public service. In 2008, she earned the Massachusetts Unsung Heroine Award, as well as the 2009 Chamber of Commerce Award.


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