Classmates reach out to friend, strangers.


Byline: Ellie Oleson COLUMN: TELEGRAM & GAZETTE SANTA Students at the Rice Square School in Worcester had a difficult decision to make this year. As they do every year, the children had been saving their pennies for the Telegram & Gazette Santa, but this year was different. A classmate was in trouble. Fifth-grader Jeffrey P. Balzer, 10, was in the hospital having treatments for cancer. His fellow students wanted to do something special for him, to let him know they cared. "The kids were torn between giving to the Gazette Santa to help children they didn't know and giving to Jeffrey," said Kathleen J. Valeri, school principal. The students did not want any child to be disappointed, so they decided to divide the proceeds of their collection between Jeffrey and the T&G Santa. "Our kids are very kind and caring and eager to help others, even though some of them could use some help themselves," Ms. Valeri said. She said the students held a collection in school, then sent Jeffrey a large basket of gifts and cards delivered to Jeffrey's hospital bedside by his teacher, Christine Carr. The school staff also helped out, placing some cash in Jeffrey's bank account and sending gifts. The school's Parents Association held a holiday fair, giving $200, half the proceeds, to the T&G Santa and half to Jeffrey for a portable DVD player and other gifts. The school's 460 preschool through Grade 6 students also collected hundreds of dollars for the T&G Santa, much of it donated in pennies. "The kids grabbed the family change. One child had a fundraising party, with proceeds to go to Santa. One mother dropped off two plastic bags full of coins. Some kids cashed in soda cans. One second-grader donated his $2 pizza money. The kids are great and raised $800 for the Gazette Santa," Ms. Valeri said. Some of the school's students live in shelters for the homeless. Few are wealthy. All, including Jeffrey, are generous and loving, even though some have had a difficult life, Ms. Valeri said. Jeffrey's mother was out of his life when he was very young, though he does live with a family that loves him. He was adopted by his grandmother, Mary E. Lenart, when he was a year old. When Mrs. Lenart had problems in her rented apartment, she and Jeffrey were welcomed into the home of Mrs. Lenart's daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer A. and Patrick T. Donahue, and their seven children, who live near the Rice Square School. "We were happy to have my mother and Jeffrey here. My 3-year-old thinks...

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