Award to Be Named For Local Teen’s Grassroots Efforts

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The college essay is a regular part of the application process for high school students taking the next steps towards their future. The subject usually includes a personal experience that helped shape that candidate into who they are. But few, if any, can say their college essay was about spearheading an annual fundraising effort since age eight. However, that’s exactly what Rockaway resident, Samantha Colleran did. And she’ll be entering SUNY Oneonta with another accomplishment to her name—having an award named after her.

When she was in third grade, Colleran was captivated by a show called the Nickelodeon Halo Awards, in which youngsters like herself were highlighted for spearheading a small effort to better their community, which grew into something bigger. Instantly inspired, she thought of ways that she too could make a small change. That’s when her mother’s friend’s daughter, Nola Iacobelli, came to mind. The little girl was born with Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that typically affects the heart (cardio-), facial features (facio-) and skin (cutaneous). CFC is so rare, that it is believed it only occurs in one out of every 810,000 individuals, and there are only about 300 known cases around the world.

At just eight, Colleran knew she wanted to do something to bring attention to the disease that so few know about, but that impacts Nola’s life every day. So she started a business that many young Rockaway entrepreneurs engage in—she sold seashells by the seashore.

“I started by finding shells on the beach and painting them with different designs and selling them at my neighbor’s Fourth of July party,” Colleran said. Neighbors were instantly supportive. “My neighbor, Billy, jokingly told people that they wouldn’t be able to get food at the party unless they showed him a shell that they bought,” she said. In her very first year of selling shells, Colleran made $150 to donate to CFC International, one of the few organizations that provides support, research and education for this rare disease.

Colleran’s seashell sales expanded into other items like bracelets, and other neighborhood kids got on board by donating other handmade items to be sold. The effort was a huge success with Colleran raising as much as $600 one summer, but like with everything else, Hurricane Sandy put a damper on her efforts when her garage full of arts and crafts supplies was destroyed. But that wouldn’t stop her. “The year of the storm, we were so jammed up with everything, but it became clear that this had become something very important to Samantha,” Samantha’s mother, Rachel Colleran said. “Even with everything trashed around us, she was so concerned that we’d have to take a break from raising money for CFC and she wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Instead, Colleran simply re-directed her efforts by starting something that couldn’t be destroyed—a walkathon.

Colleran held the first walkathon, from Beach 149th to Beach 129th and back, right after Sandy, in the spring of 2013. “We started out with just about 20 people, but we raised about $1,000. We realized that by doing the walkathons, we were not just raising money, but raising awareness for CFC,” Colleran said. The walkathon became an annual event and grew into a huge success, with Colleran raising $9,000 at the 2018 event. However, at this year’s walkathon in April, Colleran made an announcement to her supporters that it would be the last walkathon for a while.

Colleran will be attending college starting in August, which will put a temporary pause on her walkathon efforts, but that doesn’t mean she’s putting it behind her. She says she’ll look into starting fundraising efforts in college. After all, raising awareness and funding for CFC has become a big part of what makes Samantha, Samantha.

“With college visits and everything else going on in junior year, I told her that it might be too much to do the walkathon this year and I suggested that she not do it and she started crying and said, ‘why would you say that? Of course, I’m going to do it.’ It’s something that’s really become a part of her,” Rachel Colleran said.

It’s so much a part of her, that Colleran decided to make it the subject of her college essay. “I wrote about how this whole experience has made me grow up. There’s always going to be someone who’s known as the smart one or the athletic one, and you struggle to find your own thing, but you don’t have to be those things to make a change or do something big. You just need to have heart. You may think doing something small may not make a difference, but it can,” Colleran said. From raising $150 by selling seashells, to $9,000 at a walkathon and around $25,000 over the course of 10 years, Colleran has proven that no small effort is too small.

However, for Colleran, raising money has been just a small part of this experience. It’s really about who she started this for. “After the walk this year, Nola’s mom, Jenny, asked how I felt about it being the last walkathon for a while and I said, ‘It really sucks.’ She said to me, ‘I always thought that Nola was here to teach me something, but I think that she came into this world to teach you something,’” Colleran recalled, adding that she teared up after Jenny’s remarks.

After the walk, Jenny told Colleran one more thing. During CFC International’s Family Conference, an event that brings together patients with CFC and their families, medical professionals and others, an award will be given away to a non-family member of someone with CFC, who has gone above and beyond to help the cause. The award will be called the Samantha Colleran Care and Community Award.

Colleran will be attending the conference from July 10-13 in Tampa Bay, Fl., to present the award in her name, to the worthy recipient. “This is really humbling and it’s such an honor. I never really thought of this as something to be recognized for. It’s just something I did.”

For more information about CFC or to donate, check out CFCSyndrome.org

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