By Liz Pulver and Ciara Dennehy
A t-shirt fundraiser at Northeast Elementary in Brentwood raised over $1,000 for The Children’s Craniofacial Association, in honor of Jeremy Dale, a young man with Goldenhar Syndrome who spoke at the school in late January.
Dale’s disease gives him craniofacial abnormalities like the boy from Wonder, a popular book and movie about how young boy is bullied for his differences, which is a reading requirement in many elementary schools.
“For my students [Dale] gave them a realistic interpretation of what happened on screen in Wonder,” Mary Bricker, a fourth grade teacher who started the fundraiser, said.
Upon the release of the Wonder movie in November, Dale and his family were flown out to Los Angeles to meet the cast, and watch the premiere.
After hearing Dale speak at Northeast Elementary, faculty and students started a campaign called “Kinder than Necessary” to spread awareness and raise money for children with craniofacial differences. The fundraiser ended February 6th, and the money raised will help send kids with craniofacial diseases to an annual convention that lets them come together to have fun and not worry about what they look like.
“My students learned that everyone has feelings, and that it goes beyond what you look like,” Nicole Lisena, a teacher at Northeast Elementary, said.
Dale is an 18-year-old high school senior who has had over 40 surgeries to fix an extreme facial cleft and cleft palate, the absence of a left ear, an underdeveloped left eye and various spinal issues. In recent weeks, Dale has been traveling around Long Island talking to school’s about his life and the impact of being kind to one another despite physical differences.
“They could really relate to the things he liked to do like playing video games or Star Wars,” Vanessa Sobotko, a fourth grade teacher at Northeast Elementary, said.
Many students who watched the speech were inspired by Dale’s confidence in front of people, fourth grader Melanie Orellana said. “I was happy because he was so brave,” she said. “He doesn’t even care what people think, and that’s what makes him special.”
Dale also spoke at Edward J. Bosti Elementary in Oakdale.
“I think the biggest impact is on their awareness of facial differences and understanding the social emotional impact on children and adults afflicted with facial differences,” Laura Kimball, the school’s principal, said. “The hope is that this understanding will lead to compassion and empathy toward others.”
Colleen Malone, a teacher at Bosti, first learned about Dale’s story after having his cousin in her class last year. When Malone heard he was coming to speak on Long Island, she jumped at the chance to bring him to her school.
“Jeremy’s enthusiasm and positive attitude will be an inspiration for how [my students] choose to live their lives,” Malone said. She also said that they all wrote him thank you letters.
Dale has spoken to over 5,000 students in just four years, and that number is growing, said his mother Kristine Dale. Although he is still in high school, he is trying to speak to students and spread his message as much as possible.