Giving Back

Ahr Star Program Raises Funds for South Plainfield Resident Brianna Feeney and Cranford Resident Finley O’Neill

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EDISON, NJ - On Thursday, October 6, Bishop Ahr High School hosted its annual Ahr Star Spaghetti Dinner. Although the Ahr Star Program has been in existence for 29 years, it is only since 1997 that the Ahr Star Spaghetti dinner has been held. The Ahr Star for the 1997 – 98 school year was † Sean Batiste, at that time a senior at BGA. Sean was diagnosed with leukemia the day of his junior prom. The student body unanimously nominated Sean as the ’97 – ’98 Ahr Star. They wanted to do something special for Sean and decided to host a spaghetti dinner. On the first Thursday of every October, BGA Ahr Star has hosted a spaghetti dinner.

For the past 29 years, the Ahr Star program has adopted two children that are chronically or terminally ill. The Ahr Star Board and school community then spend the entire year providing support for the families. This year, the Ahr Star Spaghetti Dinner raised over $11,000 with approximately 900 people in attendance. “The Ahr Star program is a true representation of the heart and generosity of the BGA community. It is truly love in action,” said Sister Cynthia Babyak, Campus Minister and moderator of the Ahr Star Program.

Earlier this year, the Ahr Star Committee proudly announced that the Ahr Stars for the 2016 - 2017 school year are Finley O’Neill and Brianna Feeney.

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Finley is almost 1 year old and he has the eighth-documented case of FATCO Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. Finley lives in Cranford with his mom Mary Ellen, his dad Phil, and his 4-year-old brother Liam. His mom Mary Ellen (Ewing) is a 1996 BGA alumna and his grandmother Mrs. Diane Ewing was an English teacher at BGA.

Brianna is 7 years old and has PKS a very rare genetic disorder. Only about 300 people in the world have ever been diagnosed with PKS. Brianna lives in South Plainfield with her 13-year-old brother Joseph, 11-year-old sister Bridget, and her mom Patricia. Her mom Patricia (Trenchak) is a 1991 BGA alumna. 

All of the proceeds from the dinner are given to the Ahr Star’s families to be used as they would like. At the dinner, Finley and Brianna were also presented with many gifts, but perhaps their favorite was a soccer ball autographed by the varsity boy’s and girl’s teams, personally presented by the team captains.

Finley’s mom said: “It’s amazing to see a community come together and help us in our most difficult times.” Brianna’s mom said: “It’s such a blessing to know that so many people are praying for us and keeping us in their prayers.”

The Ahr Star program at Bishop Ahr is one of the most popular service activities for students and faculty. This year, 164 students, and 64 teachers and administrators devoted their time to volunteering at the dinner. When asked why he wanted to participate in the Ahr Star program, senior Andrew Weiler said, “It feels amazing to be able to give hope to families when they are going through a tough time.” Ahr Star co-chairpersons Kelsey Kacsmar ‘17 and Jude Roche ‘18 both stated that being able to run this program means the world to them. “I love being a part of the Ahr Star spaghetti dinner; it’s so great to see how many students come out to support the families,” said Kelsey. “It was great to see how the families reacted when they saw how many people helped out and attended to support them,” added Jude.

Members of the local community also got involved, with the food being cooked by volunteers from the Woodbridge Knights of Columbus, who help at the dinner every year. In addition, past and present members of the BGA community donated their services to the dinner. The Roche, Penny, Dama, and Lind families all donated food to the dinner, which is in addition to the donations made by the student body. In fact, the donations were so great that the surplus spaghetti was donated to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, where many BGA students volunteer their time.

"Attending the Spaghetti Dinner is always a great time. Having served as an Ahr Star Rep, it is not only great to see the current student body being actively involved in this great program, but also to see former Ahr Stars and Ahr Star reps at the dinner. Ahr Star is a truly life changing program not only for the Ahr Stars but for everyone involved," said former Ahr Star Rep (04 – 05 and 05 – 06) and present BGA faculty member John Roche ’06.

Donna Hrabar, Bishop Ahr Guidance Counselor said, “My family has been privileged to have two Ahr Stars over the years - my goddaughter, Jaclyn Rust in 1999, who has cerebral palsy and my grandson Tyler Eimont in 2015, who has Dravet Syndrome.”

In both cases, our family was overwhelmed with the love, support, prayers, and generosity of the Ahr Star Program as well as the entire Bishop George Ahr High School community throughout the school year and beyond! Once a child becomes an Ahr Star, that child (and family) remains a part of the very special Ahr Star family forever.

From the spaghetti dinner to the Ahr Star Mass at Christmas to the Easter Egg hunt - the Ahr Stars and their families experience the phenomenal attention of the entire BGA community throughout the year. It is the community that makes the Ahr Star Program so special and its love, support and prayers that ease the burden of caring for that chronically or terminally ill child.

The Ahr Star Program changes hearts. Once you are a part of this family - be it as a volunteer, a donor, or a member of the Ahr Star's family - your heart will be changed. What a wonderful and special gift we afford our students - encouraging them to be a part of something greater than themselves and sharing this journey with these children and families!

For the 2016-2017 school year, there are two former Ahr Stars enrolled at Bishop Ahr – Erik Gonzalez ’17 and Bethany Cicarelli ’20. Bethany ‘20 said, “I was an Ahr Star in 2009 when I was fighting leukemia. The love and support that I received from the faculty and students at the spaghetti dinner and throughout my journey were unbelievable. Bishop Ahr will always be a part of my life and in my heart forever.” Erik ’17, who was an Ahr Star in 2011, used this quote from Harvey Mackay to sum up his Ahr Star journey: “None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone's help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you." 

Also in attendance at the dinner was Bishop James Checchio who said, “It’s a wonderful event that shows the true heart of this community. It’s so inspiring to see young people as well as adults participating for the Ahr Star families.”

The Ahr Star committee would like to thank everyone who volunteered their time, donated, and helped to make the evening a wonderful experience for all, especially for Finley, Brianna, and their families.

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