SARAH CODY: Special to The Courant (9/2017)
Jennifer Curley of Westbrook tells parents to enjoy and appreciate their children each and every day. She lives life with positivity and generosity.
"You have to give back. I tell (my kids) that all the time," she says. "In so many ways, we've been blessed." Her three sons — Matthew, age 15, and 12-year-old twins James and Andrew — were all born with neurological disorders and spend much of their time in wheelchairs. When Matthew was in fourth grade, his beloved teacher died of cancer. In order to help him deal with the grief, the family started an organization called "Bottle It Up!" to raise money for Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. But, four years later, the family experienced a shock — one that made their mission personal.
"Matthew actually developed tumors and brain cancer, so, it comes that much closer," says Curley's husband, Peter Scotella. Now, the family views "Bottle It Up!" as a productive distraction — one that channels their worry and energy in a positive way. The organization, which raises funds by cashing-in 5-cent bottles and cans, started small with school, neighbor and community donations. But now, large corporations are even taking part.
Since the beginning, "Bottle It Up!" has donated about $14,000 to the hospital. The lesson? A simple, inexpensive gesture can make a big difference. "Do things that make you happy," says Scotella. "And 'Bottle It Up!' makes the family happy because we do it as a unit, all together.
"It's a way to keep my mind off (the cancer) and feel like I'm doing something for not only myself but for other people," says Matthew, as he grooms a horse at High Hopes in Old Lyme. All three boys take part in the therapeutic riding program which helps them build strength and coordination — as well as confidence — by working with the horses. "I just feel a great connection with (the animals)," says Matthew, voicing a sentiment also felt by his brothers.
"Coming (to High Hopes) is the highlight of their week," says Scotella. The boys get very tired. They walk slowly, take naps and use wheelchairs to conserve energy. But, they're also like any growing kids. They spend time playing musical instruments and building Lego.
Curley and Scotella constantly photograph and videotape their sons. They don't know what the future holds. "I think it's made me appreciate life a little bit more because you look at life differently," says Curley. "You look at every day. I teach (the kids), 'We're in today. We're not going to look down the road. We're going to enjoy today — the beautiful weather, the sunset.'"
She believes "Bottle It Up!" gives her a positive focus, as the family aims to put a cap on cancer, one bottle at a time.
"A nickel," says Curley. "We're going to cure cancer with a nickel."
To get involved, head to bottleitup.org.
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