Grahamtastic Connection was featured in this
Connecting Hospitalized Kids
by Sandra Beckwith, photos by Tom McPherson
Leslie Morissette lost her 8-year-old son Graham to leukemia seven
years ago, she converted her grief into a good cause by providing
computers to other seriously ill children and their families.
Morissette, 42, knew how important technology was
to her family during the 18 months that Graham was confined to his
home or a hospital bed. Graham would use the family's computer for
hours to draw, stay in touch with classmates through e-mail, or get
support from other sick children in online chat rooms. And when
Graham wasn't online, his parents were, researching his disease and
learning more about treatments and clinical trials.
Six months after Graham died, Morissette wanted to
make sure that other families in crisis, and particularly their
ailing children, had access to a computer, regardless of their
location or income.
In 1998, she founded Grahamtastic Connection, a
Springvale, Maine (pop. 3,488), nonprofit organization that lends
laptop computers and provides free Internet access to seriously ill,
hospitalized children and their families.
A graphic artist, Morissette had no experience
with a nonprofit when she started Grahamtastic Connection, but that
didn't matter– she substituted commitment for know-how. Her first
call was to a local radio station she had worked with years earlier
as a volunteer on a fund-raising campaign for a child's bone marrow
transplant; she thought the staff could offer guidance. They took it
further, interviewing her on the air about her plans. Donations
arrived within days.
didn't realize at first how significant that first donated computer
was," she says. "It really gave me a focus."
At the time, Morissette was on an extended leave
from her job at Renaissance Greeting Cards Inc. in nearby Sanford
(pop. 10,133). Now back to work as an art director, Morissette is
grateful for her employer's continued support. The company donates
shipping fees for the organization's 10 laptop computers, prints
fund-raising note cards showcasing Graham's artwork, and provides
other assistance. Colleagues host yard sales and returnable bottle
collection drives to help fund Internet access fees.
Morissette's husband, Gary, 42, and their
daughters, Tiana, 22, and Deneka, 20, help by dropping off and
picking up laptops as needed. High school technology
students– including many who knew Graham– refurbish the donated
laptops and maintain the group's website.
Eddie Riddle, 19, a Sanford Regional Vocational
Center student who has rebuilt computers for Grahamtastic Connection
for three years, appreciates the opportunity to help while he learns
more about technology. Riddle recently met two families using the
laptops at the Maine Medical Center in Portland.
"Seeing the kids I'm helping did a lot for me," he
explains. "It made all my issues seem so small."
Morissette smiles when she thinks about what the
program would mean to her son. "I think he'd be very happy," she
says, adding that Graham was the kind of boy who always wanted to
She remembers when Graham was assigned to a
hospital room near a toddler whose crying made him feel bad for her.
Graham tugged a purple clown wig from the hospital playroom's
collection onto his bald little head and made the child laugh.
Graham's legacy helped 9-year-old Clarice
Diebold's family four years ago when she was hospitalized after
receiving a stem cell transplant. "Being able to access the Internet
provided a wonderful distraction for me," says her father, Thomas,
39. "In this situation, you have to get your mind onto something
else or you go crazy."
Morissette understands. "My goal is to make it as
easy as possible for other families with children experiencing
life-threatening illnesses," she says. "I do this in my son's honor
because I know he would be proud of me."
Sandra Beckwith is a freelance writer in
This article first appeared: 6/19/2005