SportsProf

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Where Community Still Matters

As most of you could probably guess, I live in between Philadelphia in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which is one of the four counties that surrounds Philadelphia. Bucks County is between Philadelphia and New Jersey, with Trenton and Princeton to the north of it. While over 50 years ago much of the county was farm land, today it is full of houses that the likes of Toll, Realen, K Hov and others have built.

The school district I live in is the Pennsbury School District, which gained notoriety last year for a bitter 3 1/2 week teachers' strike that divided the community and has a high school prom that made Reader's Digest's list of the top 100 events in America. Put simply, kids, parents and teachers work all year on a plan to redecorate the school, and kids find all sorts of creative ways to make an entrance. Several years ago, one of our neighbors and a bunch of friends rode to the prom on a fire truck. That same year, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile made an appearance too.

It's a district that encompasses both blue-collar and white-collar workers, a district that once was home to a large U.S. Steel plant, a district with a huge high school that fields all sorts of championship teams, including a football team that went to the state semifinals this past year. I can't say it's the best academic school district in the area, but thus far my kids have experienced a warm and caring environment where the parents care the right amount and where the teachers have been nurturing.

About two weeks ago, tragedy struck. A school bus went out of control in the high school's parking lot during the afternoon pick-up, striking 17 kids. All but one were treated and released at local hospitals. The seventeenth kid, Ashley Zauflik, was helicoptered to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she was taken into emergency surgery and put on the critical list. Ashley, you see, was suffering from a broken pelvis, two broken legs, and internal injuries.

The community was all shaken up. We felt for for Ashley and her parents, sibling and friends, we felt for the other kids who were injured, we felt for the bus driver (and it remains unclear what really happened), we felt for the kids who witnessed the accident, and we felt for our own bus driver, an earnest woman who shows great care when the kids get on and off the bus and always endeavors to make sure the kids get to school safely.

We all read with interest the accounts in our local newspaper about Ashley's progress. Her condition seemed touch and go for a while, and about a week ago the doctors had to amputate Ashley's left leg. The reason was that an infection was spreading, and if the doctors did not amputate, there was a danger that the infection was prove fatal. Thankfully, after that surgery, Ashley began to improve. The doctors had put her in an induced coma to help with her healing, and the other day they started to bring her out of it. The last I read, she had opened her eyes. I haven't read an update in a few days, but we all pray that she is doing well.

And amidst all of the sadness, magnanimous events have been springing up all throughout the district. Kids at schools throughout the district (and even at some in neighboring districts), are raising money for Ashley. Some are selling ribbons, others have asked the owners of the businesses where they work to put out collection boxes. Business owners are doing that of their own accord. People have sent the Zaufliks all sorts of packages, and a builder left a voicemail on their tape offering to do -- for free -- whatever construction work would be necessary to provide Ashley with the type of access she needs on her road to recovery.

And then there was a local pizza parlor, Originals, which held a fundraising event yesterday. The owner, Sal Matarese, promised to donate one half of his proceeds to the Zaufliks. The last time I checked, pizza places are not the highest margin businesses, which means that Sal and his family were actually going to lose money on the high volume. But who cared? People flocked to Originals yesterday. My family had lunch there with another family. Another friend was there to take out pizzas to deliver to our town's police department for lunch. The high school football team held a pizza-eating contest mid-afternoon to raise money. At last count, Originals sold over 1,000 pizzas yesterday.

This might not have been the barn-raising scene in Witness, but it's pretty close in my book. Read the local paper and you'll see over a dozen entries of different groups doing things for Ashley. High school kids, who can be self-absorbed and not always that magnanimous during a stage in life when they're trying to figure out who they are, are rallying to Ashley's cause by the dozens, including people who don't know her. Why? As one kid pointed on last night's news, "Because that could have happened to me."

Someone is clearly teaching these kids about what's important in life.

Right after the accident, my nine year-old told my wife she wanted to contribute. She saves her allowance carefully, and at her age she's mostly interested in Webkinz, getting her nails done, buying books and the like. But when she read the local newspaper's account about what happened, she told my wife that she wanted to help. Without any prompting. In addition to eating pizza, we sent our check to the Zaufliks as well.

From the looks of it, conversations like these have popped up all over the district. And they make me feel good about the place where I live.

I have lived in other places, and I'm not sure that every community would rally behind an injured child the way this one has. After all, people are busy in their own lives, some people can't deal with accidents and injuries, and some people figure that there are many others who will step up and help out and that means they don't have to. And some people just are not charitable.
But this place isn't one of them. One of our own got badly injured, and people have rallied by the hundreds to help out.

For a girl who many of us do not know.

Except for the fact that she's one of us, a member of our community.

And I thank God that despite all of the negativity out there, community -- in the true sense of the word -- still matters.

And I well up when I think about it.

Because the people in these parts don't take it for granted.

(If you want to read any of the stories about Ashley Zauflik, click on this link to the Bucks County Courier Times. From all accounts, she's a feisty kid, and let's pray that she'll have one heckuva comeback.)

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