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Lincoln Elementary Students Welcome ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Co-founder

One of the co-founders of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge came to speak to Lincoln Elementary School sixth-graders on November 14 to inspire them to overcome obstacles in their own lives.

Pat Quinn told his story of how symptoms started with twitching in his arm that wouldn’t go away and how he felt on the most difficult day of his life – when he learned from the doctor that he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and how his life would change forever. He explained that from the darkness of his diagnosis came the desire to raise awareness about the disease.

Though he is unable to speak, Quinn uses an eye gaze speech-generating device. He inputs letters and words into the device as it follows the movements of his eye. The device then produces speech. Quinn provided a 15-minute prepared speech and then answered questions from the students afterward.

“I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams how this ice bucket challenge would become this global phenomenon,” Quinn said. “Every time I said to myself this couldn’t get any bigger, the next day it somehow got bigger. The power of this positive movement was life-changing.”

His cousin, Debbie Keane, a reading specialist for grades K through 2 at Lincoln, had invited Quinn to the school to meet the students.

“We talked about how to deal with obstacles that come into our life,” Keane told the students. “We may not be able to specifically relate to ALS and all the difficulties that come with that but we too have problems in our life. My cousin always says now to us, to our families and to people that he visits, to, ‘Find your smile.’”

“Basically what that means is that despite what we are given it is our job to dig deep and find a way to make it OK for ourselves,” she said. “Even more remarkably, what Pat does is he steps out of his life and into the lives of others to try to inspire them.”

Students at Lincoln begin community service projects in sixth grade to raise awareness, build citizenship and create understanding. Assistant Principal Marc Molina said the students have worked in soup kitchens, visited the elderly at the Wartburg nursing home and helped make Martin Luther King murals at New York City schools.

As for the assembly with Quinn, Molina said, “It’s a way to give them a message to overcome anything no matter what the circumstance.”

After the assembly, Molina heard confirmation from a student that show him how effective the assembly was with the audience. “As I was walking by, one of the students who plays for the Mount Vernon Junior Knights said, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky to be able to play basketball.’”