Support through generations

Elementary teacher inspires students to step up for senior citizens

Danny Liberton, a first grader at Yokum Elementary School, collected 250 items on his own for the school’s drive to support CinDel ‘C’enior Connection. (Special to The Sun)

Every week, Danielle Fudala got a social media update from her mom.

“Look what they posted,” Mary DePinto would tell her daughter, highlighting the most recent accomplishments and requests by CinDel ‘C’enior Connect on Facebook.

The grassroots volunteer group aimed at providing uplifting outreach to area seniors through seasonal gifts and activities was growing busier each week, with more rehabilitation and nursing homes requesting support. CinDel ‘C’enior Connect was determined to accommodate any senior who could use a smile.

Fudala, a physical education teacher at Yocum Elementary School in Maple Shade, listened to her mom’s updates and appreciated the group’s mission. When the Cinnaminson native heard what CinDel ‘C’enior Connect was planning for its March collection, however, she recognized it was time to get personally involved.

“I said to myself, Well, I’m teaching the kids at school about building good character and making character count and showing good citizenship,” Fudala said. “I decided to do a project at my school. That’s how it all started.”

For its March Madness gifts, CinDel ‘C’enior Connect wanted to provide hand-held games, puzzles, bubbles, crosswords and similar items to the seniors. Fudala put out the word at school, and the donations started rolling in: more than 500 donations, to be more precise.

Fudala was surprised – sort of.

“Yes and no,” she said with a laugh, recognizing the giving nature of her school community.

There was also one special student who went above and beyond. First grader  Danny Liberton collected 250 items on his own. The fully remote student loves to get involved with community fundraisers and helping others. His answer as to why is simple: “I want to help the world.”

Siblings Penelope and Jax Ashmen smile with the donations they collected for CinDel ‘C’enior Connection. The kids are in first grade and pre-kindergarten, respectively, at Yokum Elementary School. (Special to The Sun)

“That’s what you teach them. You can change the world. Any kid can do that,” Yocum Principal Yvonne Reitz added.

While Fudala has been teaching for 15 years, she is in her first year at Yocum. In addition to her physical education expertise, Fudala has also brought her giving spirit to the school. In November, she organized a drive and ran a half-marathon to promote the collection, too. (She’ll be running a full marathon around Maple Shade when the weather gets warmer, since her kids reached their goal for the CinDel ‘C’enior Connect drive, too.)

“We’re so lucky to have Danielle at our school to impact our community in the way that she has,” Reitz noted. “She’s teaching the kids about giving back, and what better year to give back?”

CinDel ‘C’enior Connect founder Mimi Cirillo was shocked at Yocum’s collection – happily, of course. The generous donation helped the group provide more items in March than ever before.

“It’s just amazing, the networking that goes on. Everybody wants to help, and then everybody benefits,” she said.

The intergenerational aspect is inspiring, too, according to Cirillo.

“Kids need to know there are older people in their lives and what their needs are. And the older people just love the little kids,” Cirillo said.

“It makes the kids feel valuable, too,” she added. “And they are valuable when they do this – they really are.”

CinDel ‘C’eniorConnect provides or is starting to provide donations to residents at Wynwood Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Cinnaminson, Riverview Estates in Riverton, Collingswood Manor in Collingswood, ManorCare Health Services in Voorhees, Zurbrugg Mansion in Delanco, Premier Cadbury at Cherry Hill and Barclays Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Cherry Hill. The group is in need of coloring books, markers and colored pencil donations for its Shades of Spring April collection. To learn more, visit https://sites.google.com/view/cindelceniorconnect/home.