What can you do when students who attend your school lose their mother to the coronavirus three weeks before Mother’s Day? If you’re the staff at PS 253 in Far Rockaway, you have a drive-by car parade past the family’s home on the occasion to let your students know you are there for them.
“I didn’t know what to expect when we first told the staff about the idea of a drive-by parade for this family,” said Diana Vosswinkel, the chapter leader at the Queens school. “After all, it was Mother’s Day, and with everyone working so much harder than usual, I thought they might want to spend the day with their own families.”
But within 15 minutes of pitching the proposal on the schoolwide Microsoft Teams page, 20 people had accepted. Within an hour, about 50 — “almost the entire staff,” Vosswinkel said — had committed to take part.
Educators had gotten word of a GoFundMe page to support the family of Marta Reyes, including three children who currently attend the school and two who have graduated. But to honor Reyes, a well-known presence at the school, the staff wanted to do more. “Our options were limited because of the pandemic, but our principal, Phoebe Robinson, suggested the car parade with the theme ‘The Sun is Shining.’ I was overcome with emotion by the response and was completely in awe of our staff.”
They met at the school at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday, May 10 to dress their vehicles with balloons, decorations and loving messages. At 11 a.m., 52 cars and more than 100 people, accompanied by seven police SUVs from Far Rockaway’s 101st Precinct, made the 10-minute drive to the Reyes family home. Marta’s husband, Elder, and their children — a 2nd-grader, a 5th-grader, a 6th-grader, a high school student and a high school graduate — smiled excitedly from their porch as the parade passed with police sirens blaring and lights flashing.
“The staff realized that if you lost your mother and it was Mother’s Day, especially after not being able to have a traditional funeral, that would make it an even more difficult day,” dance teacher Denise Leary said. “But if you have a parade of cars with a police escort show up at your house, it would be something positive you’d remember for the rest of your life. I’m grateful we could give them a good memory.”
Vosswinkel said Marta Reyes was at PS 253 with her children “all the time. She was always there to pick them up and drop them off and at parent-teacher conferences.”
Jennifer Sullivan has taught all five of the “beautiful” Reyes children. “They have been a ray of sunshine for me,” she said.
That’s why she participated, and also why she made sure to bring her own two children.
“To know that I can possibly bring a smile to the Reyes children's faces meant the world to me, especially on Mother’s Day,” Sullivan said. “Family is everything, and having my two sons there with me to support this family also meant the world. It was a life lesson of kindness, love, empathy, support and community.”