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Huth Road Elementary School: Islander benefactor of fundraisers on road to recovery

Sat, Mar 31st 2018 07:00 am
Organizers of a fundraiser for Dana Papaj of Huth Road Elementary School made a presentation at the Grand Island Board of Education meeting to thank the district for its support. Papaj was injured by a hit-and-run driver last year and is on her way to recovery. Pictured, from left: Board of Education President Lisa Pyc, fundraiser organizers Diane Lipp and Jeanne Percival, Dana and Don Papaj and their daughter Brittany Gruttadauria, school nurse AnnMarie Stewart, and trustees Glenn Bobeck and Joy LaMarca. In back: Trustee Sue Marston. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Organizers of a fundraiser for Dana Papaj of Huth Road Elementary School made a presentation at the Grand Island Board of Education meeting to thank the district for its support. Papaj was injured by a hit-and-run driver last year and is on her way to recovery. Pictured, from left: Board of Education President Lisa Pyc, fundraiser organizers Diane Lipp and Jeanne Percival, Dana and Don Papaj and their daughter Brittany Gruttadauria, school nurse AnnMarie Stewart, and trustees Glenn Bobeck and Joy LaMarca. In back: Trustee Sue Marston. (Photo by Larry Austin)
More than 400 people attended a fundraiser Friday, March 23, for Dana Papaj, the Grand Island woman who was severely injured in a hit-and-run accident last year.
Friends, neighbors and colleagues of Papaj gathered at the Radisson Grand Island for the event organized by Jeanne Percival and Diane Lipp, teachers and co-workers of Papaj at Huth Road Elementary School.
"When we found out the devastating news about Dana, we knew that we were going to have to do something," Lipp said. When the fundraiser was planned, "Every single adult in our school was involved in some way or another."
Lipp told the Grand Island Board of Education during a meeting Monday that a highlight of the night came when Papaj made her entrance. "We were so excited. When she walked in, it was like when the bride comes into the reception," Lipp said. "Everybody stood and cheered for her. It was the most heartwarming thing."
Last year, Papaj was struck by a driver while walking her dog near East River. The driver of the vehicle has since been sent to prison, while Papaj makes the recovery from a brain injury that nearly took her life.
Papaj's daughter, Brittany Gruttadauria, said the turnout at the fundraiser was "overwhelming."
"My mom has always been such a good person, and it really shows. It's karma, because everybody is giving back to her," she said.
Papaj continues the arduous by steady climb to recovery, Gruttadauria said.
"It's a very slow process, but every month is better than the one before," Gruttadauria said. "Her memories are starting to come back a little bit and with a lot of intensive therapy she's really coming along."
There were 187 baskets for a raffle at the event, held at the Radisson, which donated the use of the room. Percival
The fundraiser at the Radisson was the second major benefit involving Papaj. The BOE received a report from AnnMarie Stewart, a school nurse at Kaegebein Elementary School for 25 years, who organized a dress-down fundraiser earlier in the year for Erie County Medical Center. Stewart said in March of 2009 she received the devastating news that her daughter, Amy, a 2004 graduate of Grand Island High School and a student at Daemen College, was injured in a hit-and-run pedestrian accident, one heartbreakingly similar to the accident in which Papaj was injured.
"Through the remarkable efforts of the physicians, nurses and other clinicians at ECMC, our daughter not only survived, but she has made a miraculous recovery," Stewart said.
District employees decided to donate their dress-down money to support efforts to build a brand new emergency department and trauma unit at ECMC. Stewart reported that the fundraiser collected $1,000, and ECMC was so touched by the "community-mindedness of our district" that they received the money at a presentation ceremony at Kaegebein Elementary, attended by Papaj.
Stewart said the ceremony was conducted in a school hallway with an altogether fitting backdrop of a Kaegebein sign that said, "Kindness is Our Super Power."
"I often think what better example that we as adults beyond the classroom can give to our students than the lessons they learn about social responsibility," Stewart said.
At the BOE meeting, Papaj's husband, Don, thanked the community and school district for everything they have done for his wife.
"This goes all the way back to the day of the accident. The support we got from the community and all these people in the school was just remarkable. It meant so much," he said.
Papaj showed at the fundraiser her sense of humor is back. Asked how she felt about the event, she said, "I can't believe how many people came and it was just for me. I thought it was for other people, too, and then I heard it was just for me and I'm like, 'Well, don't expect too many people to come."
Don Papaj speaks at Monday's Grand Island Board of Education meeting thanking the school district and community for their support of his wife as she recovers from a hit-and-run accident. (Photo by Larry Austin)

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