A community is coming together in a time of need for a local family. Tessa Puma, 6, recently contracted a bacterial infection that resulted in the loss of her left leg from the knee down. Now classmates, teachers, friends and even community members who don't know Tessa or her family are coming together to raise funds for her medical bills and to raise the young girl's spirits.
Northfield Elementary School principal Staci Albanese said students are having a "week of encouragement" as kids throughout the school were invited to support kindergarten student Tessa as well as her fourth-grade brother Tyler, also a student at the school by participating. On April 7 students across the Nordonia School District were decked out in pink, Tessa's favorite color, to show support, but they weren't alone. Twitter was aflutter with photos from different schools including Tallmadge, Stow, Twinsburg and even Ohio State University students wearing pink in honor of the little girl who loves to dance. Her fellow dancers at Center Stage Dance studio also wore big bows in their hair, like Tessa, to show support for the youngest member of the dance troupe.
Albanese said students at Northfield will have a different theme each day the week of April 10 to show support for both Tessa and her brother. There was a 60s Tie Dye Day, Jersey day, 80s Hair Band day where kids can rock out their 'do by seeing who can wear the biggest hair and Thursday will be wear your clothes Inside Out Day.
Nordonia High School Senior Julianne Konicek designed a sticker with a pink bow and ballet slippers in her graphic imaging class Cuyahoga Valley Career Center to sell in support of Tessa. Konicek said she had designed a sticker for a previous fundraiser and just wanted to help. The stickers are for sale at the VFW post in Northfield Center and Northfield Elementary School.
Nordonia Superintdent Dr. Joe Clark said it's incredible how a 6-year-old girl can unite a community.
"Nordonia is a family, and the outpouring of love and support for Tessa and her family is overwhelming," Clark said. "I also think it is awesome that so many other school districts have joined in. Kids today are often accused of being self-centered and narcissistic, but I think the truth is that kids today are more empathetic, compassionate and inclusive than any generation in history."
Albanese expressed similar sentiment and said "Tessa and her family are strong and an inspiration for all of us. Our students are demonstrating compassion daily for her brother Tyler and send well wishes to Tessa in many ways."
Stan's Bakery, located directly across the street from Northfield Elementary, made special cookies to help raise funds for the Pumas. Leslie Srodek-Johnson, who handles the marketing for the bakery, said 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the family during an event planned for June 11 at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6768.
"Since Northfield Elementary is right across the street and I have young daughters, I was just touched by what they are going through," Srodek-Johnson said. "I wanted to do something to help within our capacity and since we make cookies and cakes to make people smile I wanted to make Tessa smile with cookies."
The cookies will be for sale at the Olde 8 bakery throughout the month of April.
Community members who have never even met the tiny dancer or her family have been inspired to action. On April 29 a group of Nordonia Hills community members, led by Jennifer Stalzer, will be holding a 5K race in Sagamore Hills Park and will donate 100 percent of the funds raised to the Puma family.
"Originally several neighbors and I were trying to put together a small 5K in our neighborhood during the month of May to bring awareness to mental health and addiction," Stalzer said. "After this weekend's turn in Tessa's health we unanimously decided to change gears, move up the date and change locations so that we can support the Puma family as an entire community."
Registration will begin at 8 a.m. and at 8:45 a.m. a pre-race stretch will be led by Namaste Studio. The race is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. The first five men, five women and five children to cross the finish line will receive a gift card. An after-race snack bag and beverage will be provided for racers. Runners are encouraged to wear pink, Tessa's favorite color.
"All credit goes to the people of this community," Stalzer said. "They're offering funds, products and man hours before we even had a chance to ask. We often hear so much negative news and it's easy to forget how wonderful people are."
Pre-registration is encouraged but no link has been set up as of press time. Interested parties can visit the Facebook event page Team Tessa 5k Walk/Run. In addition to the race, there will be raffle baskets and a 50/50 raffle. The group is still seeking items for the raffle. Anyone interested in donating can message Melissa Kaminski via Facebook Messenger or for information on becoming a sponsor message Stalzer. For more information about this event visit Team Tessa 5k Walk/Run on Facebook events.
Another group of community members, led by Puma family friend Sheila Dougherty, is organizing a fundraiser for June 11 from 2 to 6 p.m. at the VFW Post. There will be grand prizes, booze bucket, reverse raffle, 50/50 and Chinese auction. This will be a kid-friendly event with a magician, balloon maker, animals and even Batman and Ariel will be in attendance too.
"The most amazing thing about this event is that everything is being donated," Dougherty said adding there were too many vendors to name individually. "It's really nice to see the community rally for Tessa and the amount of support she's been given."
Dougherty said the group has all the donations they need for the event already but are collecting gas gift cards to help the Pumas with the expense of transportation to and from Akron everyday, as well as Walmart and Giant Eagle gift cards to help with groceries.
For ticket information, volunteering or to follow updates visit #TESSASTRONG on Facebook events.
Anyone looking to donate funds to the family can do so by visiting www.youcaring.com/tessapuma-789786.
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432