BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The young students of Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center have learned about giving back to children in need, all while learning bike safety at their annual Wheel-a-thon. The Wheel-a-thon, in its 9th year, has raised over $22,000 [since inception], to support St. Jude Children's Hospital's mission of finding cures and saving children with catastrophic diseases. 

The fundraiser was launched in May when Gov. Livingston freshman Nicholas Tarbokia visited the school and told his story of being diagnosed with cancer when he was a student at MKM. He said he was lucky to have a hospital just like St. Jude to help him to get better. The young students have an understanding that by participating in the Wheel-a-thon, they were helping kids get better.  

MKM School Nurse Margaret Berry started this fundraiser 9 years ago because of Nicholas, but she also knows the importance of giving back. "I worked at Children's Hospital for 25 years," she said. "Because this is an early education center, I think it's important to give back to the community."

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She said, a lot of children talk about cancer in health class and they relate cancer to death. -- She holds this event to teach the children about wonderful places like St. Jude and the medicine that help patients. Having Nicholas come back to talk to the students solidifies that cancer patients can be cured through medicine and places like St. Jude.  She said, the students can actually see Nicholas, who was a sick child without hair [because of chemotherapy] with a swollen face because of steroids -- and they can see that he is now a healthy [incoming] 10th grader that plays basketball for Gov. Livingston.  Berry said, it is important for children to know that children in the school have gone through cancer treatments.

The Wheel-a-thon, through the help of Berry and Physical Education teacher Maggie Collins, was successfully executed on a picture perfect day in June and involved the entire school. Students could ride bikes, tricycles or scooters. Traffic Safety Officer Donato Minicozzi spoke to the students about the importance of bike safety before they took their lap around the track.

Officer Minicozzi said, "First, always have both hands on the handle bars so you always have control of your bike." He also said it is important to sit on your bike and "always be able to touch the ground with your feet." You may need to lower your seat or get a bike that fits, he said.

He asked the students if they knew the most important rule when they are on their bikes. "You need to wear your helmet at all times," he said. He demonstrated with a student to make sure his helmet was on straight and was tight enough so it doesn't come off if he does fall. 

The students lined up, class by class, to take their lap behind Principal Anne Corley-Hand and Officer Minicozzi.  "Let's go. Keep hands on handle bars at all times for safety," Officer Minicozzi reminded the students. And they were off!

The students received complimentary coloring books, crayons and reflectors from AAA. 

Related article: Cancer Survivor Nicholas Tarabokia Helps Kick Off Mary Kay McMillin's 9th Annual Wheel-a-thon Fundraiser