Strongwilled: The Walk For Will

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I stood at the top of the bleachers, ready to lead an opening prayer. I looked down at the field. Words can hardly describe the wave of emotions that washed over me as I saw hundreds and hundreds of young people and their families who had gathered to show their care and love for a young man, who only days ago, was severely injured in a pool accident.

It was the “Walk for Will” at Division Avenue High School that grew organically and exponentially from the love in Levittown. Many who attended didn’t even know Will Torres. But they had been prompted by a spirit of generosity to come to do a simple act: pay $5 and walk 21 laps around the track. Twenty-one was Will’s number on the Division Avenue High School Varsity Football Team. And many sported powder blue T-shirts that had “Torres21” on the back and “Strong Willed” on the front. By the end of the evening, more than $20,000 had been raised for Will’s family who had been watching their son begin to make a slow recovery from the accident.ColSommer_070616A

One of the emotions that hit me that evening was amazement. Not at the outpouring of love from these hundreds of people, but that within a week or so of the accident, something like this could be so well organized. Two hundred and fifty-five T-shirts were printed in two days. Some moms went out to local businesses and received donations of items to raffle off on the dozen tables set out on the field. Other moms had a table where people could sign up to prepare meals for the Torres family. There were wristbands for sale with Will’s number.

All this started with Will’s friend Kenny Reilly, who helped pull Will from the pool on the night of the accident. He told his mother that he’d like do so something to help Will and his family since the recovery was going to be tough and long. Mary Reilly figured she could help by baking cookies. Neither of them could foresee what was about to happen when Kenny approached his assistant principal John Coscia, with the idea of a 21-lap run to raise funds for Will. John wisely suggested that not everyone could run that long and proposed a walk instead. Thus the “Walk for Will” was born.

As Kenny posted this idea on various social media outlets, the concern for Will energized an entire community. Amidst all the organizing, Mary never got to bake cookies but others did. In addition to the auction tables, the meal sign-up-tables, the T-shirt and bracelet sales, students baked cupcakes and brought other food for sale. A GoFundMe site was set up online and more than $15,000 was raised from that effort alone—on top of the $20,000 raised at the walk.

I was amazed watching long lines form as people streamed in to enter the field. Will’s family was present for the walk and, via Facetime, so was Will. His comment? “That’s a lot of people!”

During the days after the accident, Kenny said he couldn’t sleep because he was so worried for Will. After the Walk for Will, he said he couldn’t sleep because he was overwhelmed with joy.

“I want to thank everyone for coming out for Will,” he said. “I know it’s greatly appreciated by him and his family. I’m grateful to the whole Levittown community.”
Levittown, keep on loving.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

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