A Wish That Saved A School

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If they ever rename St. Cyril's School in Philadelphia, maybe they should call it Tommy Gerimickalas Elementary. Or maybe St. Tommy Gerimickalas Elementary. Steve Hartman tells a story that proves one little boy can make a difference in an entire school community — a story that's truly a miracle.

Sister Barbara, the principal at St. Cyril's, says that in most ways, Tommy is a regular sixth-grader. He's just a heck of a lot sweeter ... and a whole lot sicker.

Tommy has cystic fibrosis. It's a terminal illness — "kids have died from it before," he says — and that makes him eligible for Make-A-Wish. Of course, most kids use their wish to go to Disney or meet a celebrity. But last year, when the city's Catholic school system announced that it would be closing St. Cyril's for budgetary reasons, Tommy never thought twice about what he would ask for.

The letter he sent to Make-A-Wish explained how the school is like a second home to him — and the people like family.

"My wish was to keep my school open until I graduate eighth grade," he says.

The Make-A-Wish people had never gotten a request quite like this one. It's not that they didn't want to do it — it's just that keeping this school open another two years until Tommy graduates would have cost about $400,000. That just wasn't possible.

"I knew I had to do something," Tommy says.

So he did. He started by sharing his letter with local newspapers. That inspired fundraisers — and to make a long story short, last month, the cardinal himself came out to announce that the school would stay open at least another year.

Tommy and the school have raised $260,000 of the $400,000 needed.

"It feels great to know that our school is going to stay open," he says.

To learn more about St. Cyril's visit: www.saintcyril.org

Hartman told Tommy that even if they don't raise enough money for his last year, he could have an awesome seventh grade — after all, if he ever gets in trouble, he can tell the principal, "Hey, I saved the school."

"I tried that," he says. "My teachers said, 'that's no excuse.'"