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posted: 5/17/2014 8:00 AM

Annual fundraiser has special local connection this year

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  • Grace Belmonte poses with Cinderella while on a Disney Cruise, part of her wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

      Grace Belmonte poses with Cinderella while on a Disney Cruise, part of her wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
    Courtesy OF Jenni Belmonte

  • Patton School kids march around the school in the Make-A-Wish walk four years ago.

       Patton School kids march around the school in the Make-A-Wish walk four years ago.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


Students and staff at Patton Elementary School in Arlington Heights raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation every year, but this year the funds raised will be donated in honor of a student at another Arlington Heights school.

Students have been raising funds through contests and pledge sheets and will hold a walk-a-thon next week in honor of Grace Belmonte, a fifth-grader at Windsor Elementary School.

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Grace already received her wish -- a Disney cruise with her family and a swim with the dolphins last summer -- so the money donated in her name will help other children with life-threatening illnesses have their wishes come true.

Grace was born with pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs, an issue that often kills children who are born with it by age 11, said her mom, Jenni Belmonte.

Grace spent four months in the NICU when she was first born and came home on oxygen.

"She is our inspiration," said Betty Wilson, a teacher's assistant in the Patton library media center.

"The walk," she said, "really brings people together."

Grace takes several medicines a day and is on a feeding tube. In November, she had major surgery to close one of two holes in her heart.

"With the help of medicine, and prayers, she has totally defied the odds," Jenni Belmonte said. "She's a smart little cookie and she's got a lot of spunk. It's been a journey with her."

Students at Patton have also participated in special "spirit" days such as Sports Day or PJ day, for a cost of $2 each to help raise money.

"Grace is a terrific kid," said Windsor Principal Shelley Fabrizio. "She makes us smile every day."

Monday night is also Make-A-Wish night at Garibaldi's, 1960 N. Arlington Heights Road, with 20 percent of proceeds during lunch and dinner going to the organization.

The most popular fundraiser so far, Wilson said, has been a "Pie in the Face" contest where students buy tickets for their favorite teacher and the top three will receive a pie in the face during a school assembly next week.

Grace's family has been surprised, but thankful, for the fundraising and that other children will get their wishes like Grace did.

"We were completely dumbfounded that they were doing this for her," Jenni Belmonte said. "It's truly a wonderful organization and this is very humbling."

The walk-a-thon will be from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, at Patton School, 1616 N. Patton Ave.

People can sign up or donate money to the fundraiser at

Grace and her family will be at the walk-a-thon on Wednesday, and her mom said she has been excited by all the attention surrounding the event.

"We are very lucky to live in a community that has been so incredibly supportive of our daughter," Belmonte said.

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