Kids Prepare for Closer to Free Ride

Jenna Laudano, at just 10 years old, decided to form her own Closer to Free team to help raise money for the Smilow Cancer Center.

Since July, three kids have worked together to help get ready for Connecticut’s Annual Closer to Free Ride, which raises funds for the Smilow Cancer Center.

Mae Zonfrillo, Cooper Leng and Jenna Laudano are all connected to one another due to cancer.

Leng is a Leukemia survivor, while Zonfrillo’s father and Laudano’s mother have both battled the disease.

This year, Laudano decided to get a little more involved with the ride by creating her own team, raising close to $3,000 dollars in two months for research, and riding for her mom.

“She is who I’m mostly riding for and we want to kill the beast and start awareness,” said Laudano. “We know someone who rides closer to free and I thought it will be cool to ride Closer to Free to and form my own team.”

All three were supporters on the sidelines in the past and wanted to pour that effort into 2019 through art.

“Every single time I came here there would be an art project here that I could do,” said Zonfrillo. “I told my Mom, this is so fun why can’t we have the patients do this because it makes me really happy.”

The group began decorating and constructing boats filled with thoughtful handwritten messages on the sails of each ship responding to the prompt “I am.”

The boats were delivered throughout Yale New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Center and taken to nine care centers throughout the state.

“It makes me feel proud to make other people happy,” said Leng. “I’m not really much of an artsy person but it’s fun when you’re doing it with a group, instead of by yourself.”

Dana Brewer is Smilow's Creative Expression Coordinator of Integrated Medicine.

"The patients love it when they read the story behind why we're collecting the response to I am,” said Brewer. “Kids can make a difference and their proving that they can.”

Brewer says it’s a full circle moment after Jenna and her daughter decided to take part in the ride after cheering on other riders.

"I think it’s great to see them riding and say their riding for their mom or their grandmother, or their father or riding for themselves, it really hits home that's everyone has been touched in some way by Cancer,” said Brewer. “The kids themselves are the leads on this project, so it was amazing to work with them.”

NBC Connecticut is proud to be connecting you with the Closer to Free Ride presented by Bank of America, on Saturday, September 7.

"Connecticut’s Best Ride" ride benefits Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center. Riders choose to take on 10, 25, 40, 65 or 100 miles on professionally designed and supported routes traveling through wooded hills and seaside vistas.

After leaving the iconic Yale Bowl after an inspiring and emotional Opening Ceremony, riders pause in front of Smilow Cancer Hospital for the Smilow Salute, where patients, doctors and nurses line the sidewalks and greet the riders to thank them.

One hundred percent of participant fundraising goes to cancer research and care, including clinical trials, survivorship programs, cancer genetics and prevention programs.

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