Youth donates birthday money in friend’s honor
Best friends Andrew Williams, left, and Stalsworth smile for the camera. Williams died in January after a battle with leukemia. Stahlsworth donated his birthday money to the Pennies for Pasta cancder fundraiser in his friend’s honor.
By Jen Bookhout
    Ten-year-old Alex Stalsworth lost his best friend, Andrew Williams, to leukemia at the beginning of January. The boys had been friends since they met in first grade.
    Melissa Stalsworth, Alex’s mother, watched events unfold as Alex looked on, helpless during his friend’s battle with cancer.
    “I think what made it so hard for Alex was seeing it unfold and watching Andrew in chemo, knowing there was nothing he could do about it,” Melissa said.
    After Alex turned 10 on Feb. 16, he announced that he wanted to donate all of his birthday money to the Pennies for Pasta fundraiser at school, an annual fundraiser benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
    “To be honest, we tried to talk him out of it,” Melissa said. “We were afraid he might regret it if his class didn’t win.”
    Each year, Oatville Elementary School raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through a change-collection fundraiser. The classes compete against one another to see who can collect the most money; the winning class receives pasta from Olive Garden. This year, for Alex, it was about much more than pasta.
    “I know it won’t bring my friend Andrew back,” Alex said, “but it might help another kid get better and not have to suffer through what he had to suffer through.”
    Alex refused to take no for an answer, Melissa said, so they let him donate his birthday money. Alex contributed $60 to his class effort.
    “I’m just so proud, it was so unselfish,” Melissa said. “But that’s just Alex, he’s always doing for others, he’s very giving.”
    While winning the competition wasn’t at the front of Alex’s mind, that’s exactly what happened. His fourth grade class collected the most money at $447. Overall, the school collected a record $2,049.67.
    “Giving to the Leukemia and Lymphoma society is important every year,” counselor Chris Mason said. “As for staff and the kids, I think this helped some of our emotions, feelings and some of our grieving process. Some people felt like they could give back this way.”
    This was the fifth or sixth year the school has conducted the fundraiser, but this time it held personal significance.
    “I think the school kind of rallied around what happened with Andrew,” Mason said.
    Winning the competition, and collecting more money than ever before is bittersweet, especially for Alex who misses his best friend, but not his birthday money.
    “It’s going towards a better cause,” Alex said. “I just hope we can find a cure for cancer.”
Jennifer Sexton’s fourth grade class, which includes Alex Stalsworth, won the class competition in the Pennies for Pasta fundraiser. The class collected $447.