North Salem Youths Sell Lemonade in Aid of Friend

Back from left, Melanie Cotrone, Amanda Stern, Ryan Luxemburg, Lucas Rouse, Max Cotrone, Kaitlin Mantis; front from left, Ryan Stern, Isaac Rouse, Ryan Lee, Ryan Vincent, Aiden Lee, Steven Collins Credits: Photo courtesy of Suyoung Lee

NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--Making both proverbial and literal lemonade out of lemons, a group of North Salem students offered their support to a friend undergoing cancer treatment by selling lemonade Labor Day weekend and giving the proceeds to the family.

“It was an amazing day of friends, family, and community all coming together to support this courageous little boy,” said Ali Stern, a parent of the students. “And even more fitting—September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.”

The American Cancer Society and local organizations, like Friends of Karen, have all acknowledged the struggles of the siblings and friends of patients that might be too young to fully grasp the diagnosis, and can be lost in the shuffle. Friends of Karen for instance, has a sibling support program in place. 

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Bennet D’Agostino, 8, was diagnosed two years ago after he suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage as a result of a rare form of leukemia. The hemorrhage left him unable to walk or talk. It was a shock to his parents, Ryan and Sarah D’Agostino, as well as his older brother, John, now 10.

Stern said it was difficult to explain to Bennet’s friends, who were just six years old at the time, but that they understood the basics; Bennet was sick and in the hospital. Bennet’s dad, Ryan, added that it was difficult for John, then 8, as well.

“We don’t even understand what’s happening,” he said of the adults. “[John’s] friends have been wonderful to him, so that’s been a huge help.”

He said that after two years of intensive chemotherapy, Bennet’s leukemia is “in check” and he’s making progress in his recovery. Ryan said he’s a determined kid, who has already defied doctors’ expectations.

Bennet is feeling better and seeing his friends has been very good for his recovery, Ryan said. Bennet had a long absence from school during this time, but his friend group is as close as ever, Stern said.

“Once Bennett came home, a few of his friends would go and visit him,” Stern said. “Even though life has gone on, they are a tight knit group of boys and as their parents, we are all close to the D’Agostinos.

Bennett is not far from anyone’s thoughts. They miss their friend and are very happy when they get to see him.”

The Saturday before Labor Day, Sept. 2, Bennet’s friends made pink and yellow lemonade from a mix that one of the parents supplied. They set up a table on Green Briar Drive in Somers for several hours and raised $200. 

Their successful sales day inspired them to continue.

“They were so excited by their accomplishment that they decided to have the lemonade stand along with some baked goods at the community pool on Labor Day, Stern said. “A Facebook post went out to the entire Green Briar community who came out in droves to support the kids and their cause.”

The table was set up at the Green Briar community pool from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Labor Day. This time, they added to their assortment and offered cookies and cupcakes. At the end of the day they had raised $647.

Brothers Isaac, 8, Nico, 6, and Lucas, 9, Rouse, all helped out at the stand.

“It was so fun do a lemonade stand for charity and to give to our friend Bennet,” Isaac said.

The idea to help Bennett with a lemonade stand came directly from the kids, she said. She said that with the start of the school year, he has been on their minds.

“At their school they learn all about being kind,” she added.  “I think that message really drove home to them.”

Ryan said he was touched by the level of compassion demonstrated by kids so young.
“Sarah and I just looked at each other, and it catches you in the throat,” he said. “It’s just so beautiful…it’s just a great example of one of the many acts of kindness in this town from the community.”

From bringing meals to the family, to arranging playdates for John, he said the community rallied around them.

“Part of the pain of all of this is there’s not much that can be done in a lot of ways, but this community has been so resourceful,” Ryan said.

He, John and Bennet made it to the lemonade stand that day.

“They were so happy to see Bennet and he was just beaming to see friends,” Ryan said. “ He hadn’t seen some of them in a long time.”

The show of support made John happy as well, Ryan said, because some of his friends were there too.

“It was really one of the best days we’ve had since this all happened by far,” Ryan said.

He added that the money given to them will be used to buy something for Bennet that he can really enjoy, and know it was a gift from his friends.

“I would love to emphasize the incalculable level of gratitude that Sarah and I feel to all of our friends in this community,” Ryan said. “As soon as this happened, this amazing little town just really wrapped its arms around us and it’ been a huge part of how we have been, and continued, to be able to get through this. It’s a horrible thing but having these friends and their kids constantly trying to think of ways to help and be there for us is a huge part of how we’re able to get through this. We really thank the community and we feel so fortunate to live in North Salem.”

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