Heine is a fifth-grade teacher at Cornwells Elementary School in Bensalem.
In 2002, Heine organized the Georgiana Walk in remembrance of Georgiana Antonopoulous, a second grader at Cornwells who passed away from lymphoma and leukemia in 2000. Growing each year, the walk and other fund-raising events have raised enough money to build and dedicate a room - the Georgiana Room - in the new Ronald McDonald House at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. The room will serve as extended-stay living quarters for a family that would otherwise have had to commute to visit loved ones in the hospital.
Words spark action:
As a fifth-grade teacher, Heine did not have much interaction with Georgiana when she was at Cornwells. He agreed to tutor her in science during her stay at the Children's Hospital. "Her mother told me that her biggest fear was that Georgiana would be forgotten," Heine related. Two years later, he organized the first Georgiana Walk around the school's grounds.
The event included speeches and special ladybug T-shirts, featuring Georgiana's favorite critter. Subsequent events such as a Spring Fling/Fair and a Jump-athon raised $5,000 to $7,000 on average.
In order to get the room at the Ronald McDonald House built, Heine was told, the group would need $30,000. It raised more than that amount, and on Nov. 20 - World Children's Day - Heine accompanied Georgiana's former classmates to the dedication. The group presented the Ronald McDonald House with a banner covered with Cornwells students' hand prints that will adorn the building for the first month.
While the Georgiana Room will help families remain close during treatment, Heine feels the experience has brought the Cornwells community closer as well. "By having our kids do something as worthwhile as giving to a charity, it helps give them a heart," he explained. "The whole project has helped our community become more of a giving place rather than a taking place."
Gratitude from Georgiana's mother:
"I couldn't even find the words to describe what Chris, the school and the community have done to keep the spirit of my daughter alive. They've gone above and beyond what anyone could have done," explained Jennifer Phelan, Georgiana's mom. "It's helped me to realize the impact that she had. Chris never even taught my daughter, and she was only in school for a year. . . . I can be out and about and see someone with a ladybug T-shirt on, and they have no idea who I am. It makes me smile."