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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Olney residents Keli and Bob Mazzuca are surviving the loss of their son, Mason — something no parent should have to endure — by living positively in his memory.
Mason, 6, died in March after a two-year battle with T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. He is remembered for his infectious smile, his dance moves and bringing happiness to others.
“He inspired all who surrounded him to turn to the positive, live every moment to the fullest and to always ‘choose joy,’” Keli Mazzuca said.
She said that throughout Mason’s treatment and the obstacles he faced, the family kept busy by giving back to others in an effort to keep Mason positive.
“When he passed away, we had a choice to grieve privately to deal with the emotions we were facing or to be out there with the community supporting us,” Keli Mazzuca said. “Giving back is my therapy. While Mason is always on my mind, this keeps me moving forward one day at a time, just like we did with Mason.”
The Mazzuca family founded MasonStrong Village, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide comprehensive support for pediatric oncology patients and families by facilitating connections to resources, connecting families with similar diagnoses, funding research for cures, and spreading joy and hope.
One of the organization’s projects was providing 75 backpacks — filled comfort items, activities and resources for parents — to patients receiving treatment at Children’s National Medical Center.
The backpacks, delivered in September, included some of Mason’s favorite things, including adhesive remover for removing sticky bandages, hospital gowns with cool designs, a pillowcase, protective facemasks and a stuffed cheetah or sloth.
Keli Mazzuca said they plan to distribute backpacks two or three times a year. The project received a financial boost from Carl M. Freeman Companies, which recently presented a check in the amount of $20,022 to MasonStrong Village.
The fundraising idea was the brainchild Freeman controller Brian Litkowski, who through a leadership program was tasked with creating a project that would integrate work, family and community life.
“We all loved the idea, enjoyed the philanthropic outreach and hope to make it an annual event,” said Valle Bonhag, Freeman property manager. “Our office got together as a group to choose an organization that we wanted to support. MasonStrong Village had a local, community feel, and we all agreed that their cause was one we could get behind and feel wonderful supporting.”
Carl M. Freeman Companies organized fundraisers at The Greene Turtle of Olney; Tusculum Farm along with Waredaca Brewing Company and GrillMarX Steakhouse & Raw Bar; and at The Olney Winery. They also ran a 50/50 raffle and an online auction and sold popcorn in their office building.
Keli Mazzuca said MasonStrong Village was grateful for the donation, which she said will allow her organization to expand the backpack program to include Inova Fairfax Hospital.
While the holidays could be the darkest time for parents grieving the loss of a child, the Mazzucas are spending the season focusing on bringing joy to others.
MasonStrong provided holiday cheer to the oncology/hematology floor at Children’s Hospital by decorating the 4-East wing with a Grinch theme earlier this month.
MasonStrong Village is helping fulfill holiday wishes for eight families at Children’s Hospital in partnership with the Olney/Brookeville community. The foundation will fulfill a “big wish” for each patient.
The foundation also organized a toy drive to benefit families served by Olney HELP and partnered with Girl Scout troops of Greenwood Elementary School to collect blankets and pajamas for the 4-East warriors.
This marks the third year the Mazzuca family has supported Children’s Hospital patients during the holidays.
“I would be doing this with Mason if he were here,” she said. “That was always my plan. We are so grateful to the entire community for their support of us as we continue to carryout Mason’s legacy.”
For more information on MasonStrong Village, go to www.masonstrongvillage.org.
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