The Theresa Battleship’s Foundation enjoys bringing people together for a common goal. In memory of 2012 Cheshire High School graduate Theresa Fitzpatrick, who passed away from cancer seven years ago, the organization has raised $826,424 toward funding research for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
CCMC is where Fitzpatrick underwent treatment and felt compassion for other children facing a tough battle ahead.
“Theresa was an incredible person,” reflected Alexis Sansone, a foundation volunteer who graduated from CHS with Fitzpatrick. “I grew up with her, starting in elementary school at Chapman, and we continued playing sports together. Trying to replicate her passion is hard because she was amazing.”
The coronavirus pandemic has kept millions of people apart this year, but reflecting on Fitzpatrick’s example, Theresa’s Battleship still felt that it was important to unite friends and families for a holiday tradition. For the fifth straight year, the foundation is making cheerful cards to give to pediatric cancer patients.
“It is really nice to do something for people going through a tough time,” said Sansone. “There are more kids alone this year than in the past, so to support them is really special.”
The foundation traditionally sets up tables for people to make or sign cards at their annual gala, but since the event was canceled this year, they have asked for cards to be filled out independently and then sent in by this Saturday.
“It was definitely a bummer to not hold the gala, but obviously everyone staying safe and healthy was the most important thing,” Sansone explained. “Even though we couldn’t hold the event this time, we still wanted to do the cards.”
Some people have created their own cards, while others have purchased ones for the project. Signing your name is optional.
“People are able to put their personal touch on them and that is nice,” explained Sansone.
Sansone said the foundation usually gets a couple hundred cards every year. Since they have already collected over 100 by last weekend, she feels they can make a big donation this weekend.
“The response has been great,” stated Sansone.
Cards have always been brought to cancer patients at CCMC, however since the facility is not allowing outside donations at this time, Theresa’s Battleship has decided to give back to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. CHS graduate Taylor Strange will drive an hour from Mississippi to drop off the cards.
“It has to be hard going through what those patients are facing, but to hopefully make them smile is a great feeling,” explained Sansone.
Going into this week, Sansone had created over 50 cards with fellow CHS graduate and roommate Carina Martone. Strange also recently made 50 cards with Cheshire grad Stephen Carlette.
“We have friends all over the country making them for the kids,” said Sansone, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Sansone has also enjoyed seeing the growth of the foundation that began in Cheshire. A former CHS soccer and tennis co-captain, Fitzpatrick was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma as a sophomore, but used her fight as inspiration to help other people going through cancer.
For her senior year, she joined with her classmates to form the Theresa’s Battleship team for the 2012 Cheshire Relay For Life event. The students sold purple tie-dyed shirts and raised money for the American Cancer Society.
A year later, Fitzpatrick lost her battle with cancer, but her friends and family wanted to keep her message going through the Theresa’s Battleship Foundation. Excess money from the Relay For Life event was used to start the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
When Fitzpatrick’s friends left Cheshire for college, they began sharing her story across the country. At Hofstra University (New York) in 2016, Sansone recalls teaming with CHS grad Vikram Lyall to hold the first Theresa’s Battleship Gala in the back of a bar in Long Island.
Proceeds were split between the foundation and Hofstra’s Relay For Life.
“It is truly remarkable how far we’ve come,” reflected Sansone. “That first one had 72 people and now we are up to 300 for the gala. It has been a great experience.”
For the last three years, the gala has taken place in New York City. With raffles and silent auctions, the foundation has raised funds for cancer research.
“I love working with Theresa’s Battleship,” stated Sansone, who has worked with CHS graduate Kelly Rosadino in planning the galas. “Working from the Cheshire Relay For Life through college and beyond, it is hard to put into words how much it means to me. It is an incredible foundation that gives back to other people.”
Fitzpatrick’s mother Lisa, father Paul, and brother Joe still attend events like the galas.
“I’m fortunate to have a great relationship with the family,” said Sansone. “Joey lives close to me now in Williamsburg (neighborhood in Brooklyn).”
While raising money worldwide, Theresa’s Battleship also takes pride in having local organizations honor the memory of Fitzpatrick. On Nov. 6, CHS girls’ soccer held their Inaugural Play in Purple Game.
Players and coaches purchased purple shirts and also accepted donations. Along with raising over $1,000, Cheshire earned an 8-0 win over Hamden.
Head Coach Kylee McIntosh played with Fitzpatrick at CHS. A former boys’ soccer co-captain and current girls’ assistant, Eric Rothbart coordinated the foundation game.
“The girls’ soccer team has always been a special group,” reflected Sansone, who also played for the program at CHS. “They’ve been doing things every year for the foundation.”
The day before the game, Sansone talked to the Rams about Fitzpatrick. Lisa Fitzpatrick also spoke to the team at the game.
While not staying for the contest, foundation members watched Cheshire play online.
“I think Theresa was definitely smiling watching the game,” said Sansone. “It was cool.”
To continue fundraising during the pandemic, Theresa’s Battleship sells apparel such as masks and shirts on their website at theresasbattleshipfoundation.org.
“We’ve been working with Bob Bush at Cheshire Sport. Every little donation makes a difference and puts a smile on your face,” stated Sansone. “The (CHS) girls’ soccer team recently wore their purple shirts while raking leaves in town and someone asked them about the foundation. That person ended up sending messages to Lisa about it.”
With reports of COVID-19 vaccines going to be made available in the coming months, the foundation hopes to hold another in-person gala if the health situation allows for it in 2021.
“We need to see where we are (health wise) in six months,” stated Sansone.
Theresa’s Battleship also looks forward to reaching the $1-million mark in fundraising for cancer research.
“We haven’t been an established nonprofit organization for 10 years and we are closing in on that milestone,” said Sansone. “It is amazing.”