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St. James Elementary School

Town of Smithtown residents now have a place where they can sit down to remember the life of 6-year-old Paige Keely along with other children who have died too soon.

Three Nesconset residents Danielle Hoering, Bridget Scher and Sasha Worontzoff, members of Tackan Elementary School’s Parent-Teacher Association, spearheaded the creation of a memorial to Paige Keely installed at Nesconset gazebo Aug. 2.

Paige Keeley. Photo from St. James Funeral Home

The 6-year-old Paige was first-grader at St. James Elementary who died suddenly of a rare, undetected brain condition called arteriovenous malformation Jan. 8. It’s an abnormal development of blood vessels that connect arteries and veins, which occurs in less than 1 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center based in Minnesota.

“I know what it’s like to lose someone,” Worontzoff said. “People end up forgetting after a while or move onto the next big thing and we didn’t want people to.”

The St. James community initially showed its support for Keely’s parents, Tom and Gina, along with her two siblings by tying pink ribbons – Paige’s favorite color – around trees, stop signs and telephone poles in the community. Now, there is a permanent pink ribbon at the Nesconset gazebo.

In memory of Paige and all children who have died, a cherry blossom tree donated by Borella Nursery Wholesale Growers in Nesconset was planted near the gazebo as it will blossom with pink flowers each year. The tree was surrounded by a garden with a stone plaque, and a white bench inscribed a pink ribbon dedicating it “In Memory of Paige Keely.”  The Town of  Smithtown Parks, Building & Grounds Department helped install the memorial.

“We wanted to do it in a public area so that all families could come and enjoy it, not just at a school,” Scher said. “We just wanted a spot where people can sit and reflect or pay respect to Paige and the family.”

The gazebo was selected as the memorial site because several public events like the Nesconset Concert series are hosted at the park, attracting families and community members. Local businesses and those in the community donated money to help fund the project.

“People end up forgetting after a while or move onto the next big thing and we didn’t want people to.”

– Sasha Worontzoff

“We wanted each person and each establishment to have a sense of contribution to this permanent fixture in our community,” Worontzoff said. “We really just wanted Nesconset people to help and be a part of it.”

Worontzoff and Hoering had to get permission from Smithtown’s elected officials in order to build the memorial on town-owned land.

“We were so grateful and appreciative that the parks and rec and Town Hall were so quick and knew our story ahead of time,” Worontzoff said. “It was wonderful.”

She hopes local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops will maintain the memorial and keep it in good condition throughout the years.

This is the second memorial to be constructed in Paige’s memory. Earlier this summer, St. James Elementary School dedicated a butterfly garden on its grounds at the Keely family’s request.

The Kindness for the Keely Family mailbox is traveling through Smithtown. Photo from St. James Elementary School PTA

This February, the St. James and greater Smithtown community is focused on sharing words of love and support to help one family through a difficult time.

One by one, cards and small care packages are finding their way to a pink and white mailbox, painted with the words “Kindness for the Keely family.” Each Friday, this mailbox, created by St. James Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, will be delivered to the family of Paige Keely.

Paige Keeley. Photo from St. James Funeral Home

The 6-year-old Paige —  nicknamed “Paigey Bean” — was a first-grader at St. James Elementary School who died of a rare brain condition Jan. 8. Her parents, Tom and Gina Keely, are active members of the St. James community and have two other children, Maeve and Ronan.

“A big concern for all of us is once everything dies down and the dust settles, that the Keelys still feel supported by the community,” said Celina Murphy, president of St. James Elementary PTA. “No one’s forgotten them, we’re all still here.”

Pink ribbons can be spotted across the Smithtown Central School District tied to signs, poles, trees and even in high school cheerleaders’ hair in memory of Paige in the days after her death.

Business owners reached out to show their support. Commack resident Nicole Helfman, owner of Creative Cutz Design, made 350 vinyl decals for the school district so they could be put up in car windows and glass storefronts.

“For anyone who has kids, knows kids or is a teacher, it just hits home,” Helfman said. “People want to help out.”

Now, PTA members are passing a mailbox between buildings to collect donations of sympathy cards, gift cards, restaurant certificates, small care packages and other well wishes from community members for the Keely family. It will be at Nesaquake Middle School through Feb. 9, followed by Smithtown High School West from Feb. 12 to 16.

“The outpouring has been tremendous from the community both within the district and community at large,” said Mary Grace Lynch, principal of St. James Elementary School. “Within the district, the teachers, staff and administration have been incredibly supportive of the Keely family.”

Those who wish to send a sympathy card or donation, but do not have children in the school, can mail packages clearly marked “Kindness for Keely” to St. James Elementary School at 580 Lake Ave., St. James, NY 11780.

Lynch said the school will be constructing a butterfly garden in memory of Paige at the family’s request, once they are ready. The principal said she is confident with the number of Scout troops, high school teams and clubs who have reached out asking how to honor Paige’s memory. There will be no shortage of hands and support to construct the garden.

“That little girl has impacted so many, many people in her six short years of life,” Lynch said. “She’s had a profound and lasting effect on the community.”

The Kindness for Keely mailbox will be at: Accompsett Elementary School, Feb. 26 to March 3; Tackan Elementary, March 5 to 9; Mills Pond Elementary, March 12 to 16; Smithtown Elementary, March 19 to 23; Dogwood Elementary, March 26 to 30; High School East, April 9 to 13;  Mount Pleasant Elementary; April 16 to 20; Accompsett Middle School, April 23 to 27; and Great Hollow Middle School, April 30 to May 4.

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