On Christian Connelly’s ninth birthday, he and his family went to Disney World. With Universal Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot and more at his finger tips, it was a week his mother, Maria Vondas, called “perfect.”
The Brookline family took the trip, funded by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, one year after Christian was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Vondas thinks about the trip all the time, especially during Christianpalooza, an annual event her family holds to raise money for other families to have their own Make-a-Wish experience. This year, Christianpalooza is Saturday, Nov. 3 at Resurrection Church in Brookline.
“Even if it was just that one week, we got to go away and forget about the doctors, forget about the diagnosis," said Vondas. "It was an experience you just couldn’t have without the generosity of the Make-a-Wish people.”
Christianpalooza started as a way for Vondas and her family to celebrate and honor Christian, who died in 2011 at age 9. Saturday marks the third year Vondas, her husband Coleman Connelly, and their children Coleman and Colin have held Christianpalooza—Christian got to see the first event.
“We got to make a wish with Christian, so it’s an organization that’s close to us,” Vondas said. “I love being able to use his memory to help other kids.”
Christianpalooza raised $12,000 last year, which was enough to meet the family’s goal of funding Make-a-Wish dreams for two children.
On Saturday, Christianpalooza starts at 2 p.m., and will feature circus-themed performers, a magician, a balloon artist, cotton candy, popcorn, a spaghetti dinner and raffle prizes. Brookline Dance Studio and the Tamburitzans will perform.
Since the City of Pittsburgh is holding trick-or-treat on Saturday evening, children can meet at Resurrection Church at 4 p.m. in their Halloween costumes for group pictures, followed by trick-or-treating together.
Afterwards, hot chocolate, coffee and a spaghetti dinner will be held at the church, along with a costume contest.
Vondas said her family is hoping to sponsor wishes for two more children with funds from this year’s Christianpalooza. Her family is glad to have a way to make something positive out of something that can be world-shattering.
“It’s heart wrenching for a child to go through that, but this brought us together and put smiles on all of our faces. Now we have those memories forever,” Vondas said. “For a kid who’s been suffering, it’s so comforting to see how carefree and happy he was.”
If you’re going:
When: Nov. 3, 4 to 9 p.m.
Where: Resurrection Church, Brookline.
Cost: $7 for adults; $5 for children. Free for children age 2 and younger. Cost includes events and spaghetti dinner. Shirts, bracelets and other gifts will be sold.Can't go? A donation website will be open through Christmas. Visit the Christianpalooza page on the Make-a-Wish Foundation website to donate.