Rocky Point eighth-grader Quentin Palifka shaves his head to raise money for childhood cancer during his school’s St. Baldrick’s event, at which he’s raised $10,437 in the last two years. Photo from Alicia Palifka

By Kevin Redding

Less than 3 years old, Quentin Palifka stopped in his tracks, looked up at his grandma and asked a question that “floored” her.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” the young boy said, according to family members.

Quentin Palifka with middle school Principal Scott O’Brien as he’s handed his 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Certificate of Excellence award. Photo from Alicia Palifka

But it didn’t take Quentin long before he figured it out. Less than two years later, at 4, he approached his mother and told her that he was going to become president of the United States.

“It was a bit shocking at the time,” his mother Alicia Palifka said, laughing. “But that’s just who he is. He’s always been an extremely compassionate, thoughtful, responsible child with integrity.”

And nine years later, the Rocky Point middle schooler has held onto those traits, and that dream. In fact, Quentin has his future clearly mapped out.

“I have a list of things,” Quentin, 13, said of his future aspirations. “So, after high school, I want to join either the Marines or the Army. Then after that, I want to go to law school to become a lawyer. After I’m a lawyer, I want to run for Congress in New York’s 1st Congressional District. And after that, I would love to run
for president.”

The eighth-grader is certainly on track for public office by upholding a reputation as a go-getter in and out of the classroom — in the third grade, he joined the student council, where he got his first real taste of student government and community service, continuing his involvement in the club throughout elementary and middle school. For the past two years, he has served as president of the Community Service Club; he goes out of his way to greet and thank every veteran he meets; is a fifth-level junior black belt in Kempo jiu-jitsu and currently training to become a sensei at United Studios Progressive Martial Arts; has once a month volunteered his time with those at Bellhaven Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing Care in Brookhaven; and, in the last two years, has raised a total $10,437 for his school’s St. Baldrick’s event that raises money for childhood cancer research — $4,270 last year and $6,167 this year.

“There are a lot of other kids like me that do wonderful and exceptional things.”

— Quentin Palifka

He received a special medal for donating the most money during the fundraiser events, and just last month, earned the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Certificate of Excellence honor. The national program honors youth volunteers for outstanding volunteer service, and the certificate is recommendation-based, being presented to the top 10 percent of all applicants from the state.

“It was just a huge honor to be chosen,” Quentin said. “I’m truly humbled and, you know, there are a lot of other kids like me that do wonderful and exceptional things — I’m happy to say that I’m one of them.”

Despite their pride, those who know him well said they aren’t the least bit surprised by the recent recognition.

“Quentin is just such a genuine, sweet and very well-mannered kid with a really good set of morals,” said Michelle Anzaldi, whose son Frankie, a special needs student at Rocky Point, has looked up to Quentin since he initiated a friendship with Frankie in fifth grade. “My son was put into an inclusion class then, and he didn’t have any friends in that class, but on the first day of school, Quentin went over to him, introduced himself, and [since then has] really watched out for him,” Anzaldi said. “He accepted Frankie for who he is, and their friendship is amazing.”

Quentin’s elderly neighbor John Taranto said that, for the past two years, Quentin has taken it upon himself to shovel out his driveway when it snows and helps to mow his lawn in the summer.

Quentin Pilafka with his grandfather Todd Freund. Photo from Alicia Palifka

“He’ll do anything for neighbors,” Taranto said. “He loves to do it, and he will not take anything in return. He tells me, ‘That’s what neighbors are for.’ You don’t find many kids like that. I always say that he was born in the wrong time.”

Perhaps nobody has been as impacted by Quentin’s generosity as much as his own grandfather, Todd Freund, a Korean War veteran and former self-employed salesman. Freund said he spent more than 35 years on the road — traveling across the country — and believes he missed a large chunk of his children’s upbringing.

“Now I have Quentin, and it’s been a blessing to me,” Freund said. “We’re extremely close and definite kindred spirits. I consider myself so fortunate because he taught me patience — something I’ve never really had. He and I will talk for two hours when I come over to visit, about everything. I know I sound like I’m talking about somebody who’s 60 years old, but Quentin has always lived a self-directed life and has always had
integrity and honesty. I believe it’s nurtured by his mother. She’s quite some girl.”

As much as Alicia Palifka said she’d love to take the credit, her son’s altruism is all him, she said.

“The reason he wanted to be so involved with St. Baldrick’s is because our neighbor had a child before Quentin was born who passed away from cancer,” she said. “He’s been raising money in honor of this boy he never met. This is just who he is — he always wants to do the right thing by people.”

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