Stafford’s McKinley School Raises $14,245 for Parker’s Army

By David Biggy | Oct 30, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Parker’s Army representatives accept a check for more than $14,000 during the McKinley Avenue School’s ‘Make a Difference Day’ finale on Oct. 25.

Stafford Township — Kim Nork easily recalled the days when her daughter, Payton, and son, Parker, used to raise money for the McKinley Avenue School’s “Make a Difference Day” fundraiser.

“I remember all the charities that have come through my household,” she said. “But from a parent perspective, I didn’t know the extent of it, how the staff and teachers make it all happen. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of it.”

Nork found out first-hand the depth and breadth of the week-long event, which culminates with a Friday afternoon celebration, inside the Stafford Township Arts Center on Oct. 25. What she saw brought tears to her eyes.

Not only was the venue decorated with a colorful array of positive catch phrases and terms, banners depicting the various charities the school has helped through its fundraiser during the previous 19 years and a frenzied sea of students happily dancing to the music, the 20th MADD celebration brought with it a special honor – the entire week was dedicated to Parker’s Army, the charitable organization in her son’s name.

“Parker was a special boy,” said physical education teacher Sue Malmstrom, who along with colleague Jacqueline Kennelly orchestrates the operation of “Make a Difference Day” and started the effort 20 years ago. “I knew two years ago when Parker’s Army started that we’d be raising money for them for our 20th year. Special occasion, special kid ... it made sense because he was such an influence in our school when he was here.”

Many of the teachers and staff members at McKinley knew Parker well and were heartbroken on March 11, 2017, when, at just 9 years old, he passed away three weeks after a leukemia diagnosis.

Of course, none were more heartbroken than his mother. Despite such heartbreak, she has done a lot to keep Parker’s lively spirit and friendly vibe alive through Parker’s Army, which last year began a campaign to give “Turtle Totes” – care packages with essentials and other items – to children associated with several hospitals’ inpatient and outpatient cancer units.

So imagine her surprise when on the Stafford Township Arts Center stage emerged a huge, pink turtle that eventually revealed five digits on the back of its shell. The number: $14,245. That’s how much was raised throughout the week, including a whopping $6,306 Friday morning.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Nork, who accepted the mock check alongside five other Parker’s Army representatives, including friend Kathleen DeVita, a Thirty-One consultant who arranged to acquire some 75 totes with a turtle pattern on them. “To see this kind of support is ... I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say.”

Additionally, several gifts were presented to Nork to take home – one a mural of Parker made with colored Post-It notes, the brainchild of art teacher Suzanne Willedsen, and the other a mural designed around “positive, happy statements” to Parker, according to Malmstrom.

“Suzie was Parker’s art teacher, and she had a special place in her heart for him,” Nork said. “I know she puts her heart into everything, so I’m not surprised to see this mural she came up with. It will have a special place in our home.”

Interestingly, the whole turtle theme centered around Parker’s nickname, first coined by youth football coach Jay Silva because “when Parker first started playing in pads, he fell on his back a lot and looked like a turtle trying to get up.”

“Parker definitely was shining down on us today,” Kennelly said. “We had great weather this morning for our walkathon. We had a great day of fundraising. Everything was beautiful.”

Malmstrom, again, was astonished at the level of commitment and passion from the students.

“I’m always amazed by how Manahawkin is such a giving community,” she said. “We’ve raised more than $176,000 and donated a lot of food and other items over 20 years, and that says a lot for our students and the community. Every year, they get pumped up when we tell them about the charity we’re going to give back to, and they really came through again this year.”

Of course, with an additional $14,000 in the bank, Nork couldn’t help but start thinking of the possibilities that funding could be turned around to help others.

“We’re in a whole different budget range now,” she said. “It’s going to help a lot of kids.”

For more information about Parker’s Army, visit

— David Biggy

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