Mychal’s Message Founder Celebrates Life by Taking Inner-City Kids to Hershey

Kelly Lynch Around the Province

LANCASTER, Pa. – High school student Shannon Hickey, founder of Mychal’s Message, took 400 inner-city children, along with 100 high school chaperones, to see Sesame Street Live in Hershey, Pa., in an effort to celebrate her life by giving back to others.

Once not expected to live beyond her second birthday, Shannon survived an experimental living donor liver transplant at the age of seven months.  This month marks the 16th anniversary of that transplant.  “I am grateful for my life,” Hickey said recently, “and I just want to give back.  I want to keep giving back.”

In 2002, Hickey founded Mychal’s Message in memory of her family’s lifelong friend, FDNY chaplain Mychal Judgewho was killed during the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.  It was Shannon, then 11 years old, who helped her family through their grief, when she approached them with an unusual idea.  In lieu of gifts for her transplant anniversary that year, Hickey suggested collecting socks for the homeless.

“We can celebrate my life by remembering Father Mychal’s,” she said. Her first project, “Socks for the Homeless,” yielded more than 1,500 pair of socks.  Each year since then, Hickey has chosen an anniversary project, collecting socks, blankets, sneakers and backpacks.  To date, the organization has collected and distributed over 100,000 new items to the poor.

This year, Hickey wanted to do something different, “something unlike anything I’ve ever done,” she said.  Hickey teamed up with Sesame Street Live corporate offices, which offered the tickets at a reduced rate, and with Giant Foods which donated snacks for the children.   With the help of Ken Marzinko of the Homeless Student Project in the School District of Lancaster, 400 four-and five year-olds were identified and chosen to attend the performance of Sesame Street Live.  Students at Lancaster Catholic High School, where Shannon is a junior, raised more than $2,500.

“It is a way to bring the community together,” Shannon said, “and a way to celebrate the gift of my life with others.”

Ten buses took the participants to Hershey’s Giant Center on Jan. 5, where they were greeted by Mary Shriver, a representative from Bishop Kevin Rhoades’ office, Harrisburg, who presented the children with a gift from the bishop – 500 candy bars.  After the show, each child received a gift bag packaged by Hickey and her friends that contained a show poster, small bound storybook, an autographed character photo, and a snack.

“This will be a memory to last these children a lifetime,” said Ken Marzinko.