We’ve been quiet but working.
Since our mothers passing on April 4th so many have reached out asking if we were going to do anything in her honor. Over the past few months our family has looked at certain opportunities that just didn’t feel right. Until now.
Our mother moved to Whitestone when she was 8 years old. She was so proud of her home and raising her children in the neighborhood she loved. Her and my father sent all of us to St. Mel’s where we would all find our lifelong friends and extended families. Most of our foundation’s board are St. Mel’s Alumni. She was a lifelong and loyal parishioner and was saddened to hear they were struggling. She was so excited when they brought Father Fonti to help turn things around and was optimistic of what he could do. Her beloved St. Mel’s. She was always rooting for them and her neighborhood.
Father Fonti became such a bright light in such dark times not only for the parish but our family. He came shortly after Chris’ passing but made sure to seek out my parents after one Sundays Mass. He was kind and compassionate and made time for a grieving family. My parents could never forget his kindness and my mother was adamant that if we can support him and the school in any way we would.
Recently we got the crushing news that St. Mel’s Academy was closing and would only remain an early childhood program offering Nursery to Kindergarten. Immediately after receiving this news, Father Fonti, Mrs. Barron and the community, held rallies and continued dialogue with the diocese, and within days the program was extended to 3rd grade. Our voices were heard, but we still have much more to accomplish.
The plot thickens…
16 years ago, we lost someone that was not only our mothers best friend but our second mom. Caterina (Cathy) Cassandro was truly the most beautiful soul and one of the biggest losses to not only our family but to the entire Whitestone community. She migrated here from Alife, Italy when she was nine years old. Her family settled in Whitestone, NY, where Cathy met her husband John, and they had three children John, Christopher, and Rosemarie. Cathy and John moved their family one block away from St. Mel's. They immediately became parishioners and believed in the importance of community and religious education. They enrolled their three children in St. Mel's School. John graduated in 1985, Christopher in 1987, and Rosemarie in 1989.
It was during that time where Cathy found her passion to giving back to the community and those in need. She became a member of the Rosary Society and began to coordinate fundraising events such as Fashion Shows, Night at the Races as well as countless other events. Cathy was an intricate part of raising funds for St. Mel's and continued to help raise money for different organizations in the community throughout her life. St. Mary's Children's Hospital, WORC, Whitestone Lions Club were ones that she poured all of her efforts into in her later years. Cathy passed away in 2004 but not before leaving an ever-lasting impression on all that she came across.
Over the past year we have discussed different ways we could honor our moms together. They were best friends in life and we believe they are together again. We believe we got our answer.
This is where you come in.
A few of our board members met with Father Fonti to see how our foundation could be of assistance. He expressed the severity of the situation but had a sense of hope and faith that the fight wasn’t over. During our meeting, he said he looked at this as “a reset” for St. Mel’s to hopefully make it stronger than before. What an incredible way of looking at this situation. A reset. The foundation has committed that we will support and assist in all future fundraising endeavors but asked what their immediate needs were….
A playground for the children. Ok moms – we get it.
St. Mel's was where our families created a foundation, made lifelong friendships and lasting memories. Having a state of the art playground will give the early education students a safe place to play and socialize with friends so they too can create long-lasting relationships and learn about the importance of community. The school must now upgrade its facility to attract and enroll new students as we move forward. With your support, we can make an impact in the community and keep the school open to continue to educate our children.
We cannot think of a more fitting tribute to honor our mothers than to hear children playing in the school we all went to.
The Dorothea Ryan & Caterina Cassandro Playground (breaking ground in 9/2020)