Jamie Erickson, 15, shares some of the more lighthearted details of her school day with her Precious Petits teammates Kathryn Thompson, 11; and Elizabeth Thompson, 13, at a November National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter awards banquet held at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville, Conn.
Help a neighbor. Fight for a cause. Love your family. Since July when Dr. William Petit, in the face of inconceivable loss, first uttered these simple but compelling statements, young and old across the state have stepped up to make a difference – offering a hand in a time of need, advocating for those bruised and broken, embracing loved ones more often and most of all, honoring with meaningful deeds the memory of three women, Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela – the embodiment of compassion and charity.
Now, three Cheshire teens, zealous in their faith and equally zealous to live it out, have decided to follow in the footsteps of the friends they have lost. The trio has established a fundraising team with plans to participate in the annual walk event to benefit the National MS Society – something to which the Petit women were dedicated for almost a decade.
“We can never fill their shoes,” said Jamie Erickson, 15, who, along with Elizabeth Thompson, 13, and younger sister Kathryn, 11, first came to know Hayley and Michaela through activities at their church, Cheshire United Methodist. “But it’s an honor to work for something for which they were so passionate.”
In July, the three girls established the Precious Petits Walk MS team, a team to honor the memory and work of Hayley and Michaela Petit. Soon after her mother Jennifer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), Hayley, then just nine years old, formed a walk team to raise funds to help find a cure for a disease threatening to rob mobility and independence from the mom she loved.
Over the course of the next eight years, her team, Hayley’s Hope, raised more than $55,000 and was named among the top fundraising teams multiple years. Hayley, who would have attended Dartmouth College in the fall, prepared to hand the torch to her younger sister Michaela, who was eager to pick up where Hayley would leave off.
“We saw the impact Hayley and Michaela had on the lives of others,” said Kathryn. “We see now this impact is lasting. We have an opportunity to carry it on.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, as did Jennifer Petit, battle the potentially debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. There is no cure. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness, loss of mobility and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis . The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted. Funds raised through National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter events, such as the Walk MS event, ensure ongoing scientific research to find better treatments and a cure and provide for vital programs and services offered by the chapter to those in the state living with multiple sclerosis.
“We believe we can raise a lot of money to help in the fight against multiple sclerosis because of the community and its love for the girls,” said Jamie enthusiastically. “Everyone wants to be a part of honoring their memory. Most are eager to fight for a cause – to make a difference.”
Elizabeth, who hopes someday to become a teacher, wants to keep the sisters’ dream alive through the Precious Petits Walk MS team.
“They were involved in the walk event to help find a cure – for their mom and others,” she said. “They didn’t do it for attention or accolades. They did everything with love. That’s what inspires me most. Hayley and Michaela had big hearts.”
According to a report published in the 1990s, 59 percent of teenagers, ages 12 to 17, were involved in volunteerism. These 13.3 million teen volunteers gave an estimated 3.5 hours per week, totaling 2.4 billion hours of volunteer time. In the 1990s, 41 percent of teens contributed to charitable organizations. Altruistic teens continued to increase giving throughout the ‘90s, contributing an average of $80 a year to charity.
According to the same report, altruistic teens increase their knowledge of their communities and the challenges faced therein. These teens have an opportunity to shape society and make a difference.
“Michaela always saw the best in others,” said Elizabeth , who for two years sat in Jennifer Petit’s Sunday School class and who now is on a mission to honor her memory and that of her daughters. “Even though I was older, through my friendship with Michaela I learned to follow my dreams, to do my best, make a difference and to always appreciate my family.”
At a Connecticut Chapter event in November, Dr. Petit shared with those in attendance a saying from Mahatma Gandhi which Michaela embraced and revered.
“‘You must be the change you want to see in the world,’” he shared, having found the quote neatly preserved on his daughter’s Facebook Page.
If true change results from exemplifying the change you wish to see, then these three teens, armed with faith and good works, will surely make their mark on their community and in the fight against multiple sclerosis. They indeed put faith into action and answer the call to carry on the works of Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela.
In 2007, the walk event raised more than $1.1 million. The chapter hopes to raise more than $1.5 in 2008. The 2008 Travelers Walk MS will be held at 11 sites statewide on Sunday, May 4. Sites include:
· Cheshire – Cheshire High School
· Clinton – Joel Elementary School
· Enfield – JFK Middle School
· Litchfield – Town Green
· Manchester – Manchester Community College
· New London – Mitchell College
· Norwalk – Calf Pasture Beach
· Simsbury – Westminster School
· West Hartford – University of Connecticut , West Hartford Campus
· West Haven – West Haven High School
· Woodstock – Hyde School
The Travelers Walk MS will also take place at the University of Connecticut , Storrs Campus Sunday, April 13. Lunch at all sites is provided compliments of Subway and Coca Cola. Registration begins at 8 a.m., and participants step out at 9 a.m. Participants can choose to walk either a 2.5-mile route or a 5-mile route.
To learn more about the Travelers Walk MS or to pre-register, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org. To join or pledge to the Precious Petits Walk MS team, please go to www.ctfightsMS.org. To contact the team, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about multiple sclerosis, its effects and programs and services offered by the chapter to those living with the disease by e-mailing programs@ctfightsMS.org or visiting www.ctfightsMS.org.