Chase Michael-Anthony Kowalski would have turned 16 this Sunday. His life was cut short on December 14, 2012 in the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“He lives on in the hearts of children,” said his mother, Rebecca Kowalski, breaking down in tears while presenting a check to the Greater Waterbury YMCA.
Thursday, in honor of Chase’s birthday, the Kowalskis made their ninth annual $20,000 donation to the Y’s school readiness program.
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“We just really felt that preschool would be the best choice for honoring his spirit and I think he’d be really proud of that,” said Kowalski, noting that Chase suffered a speech delay and struggled through preschool.
The donation will help cover the cost of the Y’s preschool program for up to 200 children. Around 290 children attend preschool there.
“It’s great when we’re able to talk to a family and say, ‘you know there is a financial need there. We want your child to be able to be a part of our programs and we have these foundation dollars to be able to help you out to make sure your child has access to preschool,” explained Jim O’Rourke, Greater Waterbury YMCA CEO.
Over the last nine years, through its CMAK Foundation (Chase’s initials), the family’s been able to donate $180,000 to the program in their son’s honor.
“You got a lot of kids that have received a piece of the legacy of Chase,” said Kowalski.
With Chase’s birthday just days away, the Kowalskis threw a birthday party at the preschool and recalled Chase’s hectic Halloween birthdays.
“You were trying to squeeze in a little birthday cake and make it his own yet you had a bunch of kids and his sisters that were like let’s go trick-or-treating,” she said. “I always dreamed that like what a cool birthday to have when you’re older. There’s a party everywhere. I really wish that he was able to do that.”
Thursday, dozens of preschool children at the Y put crayon to paper to make over-sized birthday cards for Chase, then celebrated with cupcakes and juice.
Kowalski said she always told Chase and his sisters Brittany and Erin to make great choices each morning they walked out the door. She added her family has made a great choice investing in other children.
“We don’t get to see Chase grow up but we do get to see other kids grow up and grow into beautiful amazing human beings,” she said. “Our little pumpkin left this world but his light shines on. The sorrow gets replaced a little bit each time with the joy and the specialness of these little kids knowing that they have a little piece of Chase and they take it with them.”
Throughout the year, the CMAK Foundation raises money for the school readiness and the Race4Chase Kids’ Triathlon Program, a six week summer camp in three states including at the Waterbury YMCA.
"Some that didn’t know how to bike or swim when they started the program are completely a triathlon which many of us would struggle to do," said Kevin Grimes, the foundation's executive director.
On Sunday, October 31st, an anonymous donor will match every donation made to the CMAK Foundation in honor of his 16th birthday.