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"Sanford woman keeps her son's memory alive with the Grahamtastic Connection organization"

- Grahamtastic Connection was featured in this Sanford-Springvale Register article:

Leslie Morissette

Sanford woman keeps her son's memory alive with the Grahamtastic Connection organization
by Colleen Marshall, Register Editor

Leslie Morissette's golden retriever slowly rises from a curled position near her desk, tag wagging and eyes shining as he greets a visitor. After successfully securing a proper welcome -- thanks to a full back petting and scratching behind both ears -- he ambles back to his spot on the floor to watch Morissette as she begins to discuss her son, the dog's first owner.

Morissette's eyes are similar to her best friend, bright when she discusses her youngest born, but soon turning glassy as the conversation turns to how his life was cut short. It was 1997 when Graham had begged for a dog as a Christmas gift -- aptly naming it "Finally" -- when the puppy finally arrived.

Four days later, on Christmas Eve, Graham lost his battle with leukemia. He was 8 years old.

Nearly a decade later, Morissette is keeping her son's memory alive by helping other kids in similar situations. With Finally as her constant companion, the Sanford resident works to ensure kids with serious illnesses have a connection to the world outside their hospital walls -- thanks to a computer and Internet service.

"We donate computers to seriously ill children," Morissette said. "We've given to kids with cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy -- we also had an AIDS patient from Africa in a New York City hospital. Having an illness ends up with a lot of hospital stays which leaves you isolated from friends and family. We hope to be able to help any child who wants technology -- we want to be able to say yes to these kids."

Since its establishment, Morissette's non-profit organization Grahamtastic Connection has donated 85 computers to children in 15 states. The program works like a lending library with Morissette teaming with social workers and hospital officials to find children who could benefit from a computer.

Although the group, which is administered by a five-member board of directors, does not look at financial ability, the children must be 18 years or younger. Morissette said she works closely with Sanford, Kennebunk and Massabessic high school students taking computer technology classes, who have helped her restore and improve used donated computers.

"They work to refurbish the computers," she said. "I link up with the high school students. I see a valuable lesson in it. I see these children learning compassion as well as technology. These aren't high school kids that need community service hours. They want to work and I see nothing better than teaching children a lesson like that."

Morissette said the idea for the organization grew from her own experiences in dealing with Graham's hospital stays. She relied on the Internet at Maine Medical Center  to garner as much information as she could about the disease, his treatments and possible cancer trials. Graham also benefited from the computer by keeping in touch with his friends.

"He was an extraordinary child," she said. "He made friends with everyone, adults, nurses and the doctors. They would all email him, which was really great."

Morissette said she relies on the kindness of the community in giving laptops, not more than three years old, as well as Internet service or wireless cards.

"I truly believe there is divine intervention in this," she said. "There have been many cases where I've needed something and then suddenly comes the next day. One time I had a request for a laptop and didn't have one available. Literally the next day, I had a donation and was able to deliver it. Another time I was $200 short because I needed to buy two modems. Then I got a $200 check from someone who sent a card for Graham's birthday. I guess I just feel I'm on the right path because things always fall into place. I'm truly blessed."

Although volunteers and board members often travel to the hospital to drop off computers, Morissette said she also makes a point to visit the children who are benefiting from her organization, even if that means it brings back memories of the 18 months she spent in the hospital with Graham.

"Now it's my most favorite part of the job," she said. "I meet with the kids and we always just keep it light. The families don't need to hear about me, because it's not a happy story. It's not about my issues. I choose my words carefully because it can be upsetting to them."

Sitting at her desk at Marian Heath, where she serves as art director, with Finally at her feet, she said the Grahamtastic Connection is simply one small thing to help families get through a difficult time in dealing with a child's illness.

"Right now, I feel like a good fairy," Morissette said. "How can I help but not do this program -- I get more rewards than I give. We're not working towards a cure. What we are offering is a better quality of life for them."

Colleen Marshall is a Sanford-Springvale Register Editor.
This article appeared in the Sanford-Springvale Register on 09/01/2006