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"York Neighbors: Keeping kids connected"

- Grahamtastic Connection was featured in this Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram article:

John Patriquin/ Portland Press Herald / Staff Photographer

Leslie Morissette lends laptops to sick children who need a computer.

By NOEL K. GALLAGHER Staff Writer
December 27, 2007

Helping others is just one of the ways Leslie Morissette keeps the memory of her son, Graham, close. There's his artwork on his walls, his dog at her feet, and the smiles of children who get free laptops to use while they are hospitalized.

Morissette operates a lending library of laptops through "Grahamtastic Connection," a nonprofit she created in her son's memory.

"It just feels right to do this," Morissette said. "It's a way to change my tragedy into something positive."

Morissette said the idea of providing computers to sick children came to her a few months after Graham died. In 1987, the Internet wasn't ubiquitous, and she had difficulty getting online to look up medical information.

"Computers were used in hospitals, they weren't accessible (by patients,)" she said. "I always remember that. When I would go home, I would immediately get online."

In the months that followed Graham's death, she stayed in touch with his nurses and doctors. As she struggled with her grief, she came up with the idea of helping other sick children by providing temporary laptops.

"It was a seed in my head, and in my grief, I had an epiphany one day when I was e-mailing one of the (Graham's) doctors. He thought it was a great idea, and I started giving critically ill kids computers," Morissette said. After being interviewed on a local radio station, her first donated laptop arrived.

"It was amazing," she said. Today, she accepts newer laptops and has them refurbished by teenagers at a local school.

"I showed (the students) the Web site, and that gave them some real incentive," said Rob Jaime, who teaches computer repair at Westbrook Regional Vocational School High School. "They felt really good about it."

So far, she's provided laptops to more than 120 children at 22 facilities in about 16 states, including Florida, New York and California.

Requests must be made by someone on the child's medical team, and she coordinates with hospital social workers, she said.

Since the program operates like a lending library, Morissette is often shipping computers here and there, or dropping them off in person to critically ill children in the area. Some hospitals have made so many requests -- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee, for example -- that she just keeps several laptops in rotation there.

Morissette, married with two adult daughters, is low-key about her work, to the point of not telling the children and families she meets in hospitals that she's the person behind the "Grahamtastic" program.

"I'll go up to the hospital floor and drop off laptops, but I don't talk about my son while I'm there," she said. "They say, 'You are so lucky to volunteer for this program,' and I just smile and agree. It's not a place for me to be bringing bad news."

Morissette admits it can be hard sometimes. For every smile she gets looking at one of Graham's pictures -- still pinned on the walls of her home -- there are tough moments with the children she meets. About one in 10 die, she said.

"I just try to remember that I'm helping and try to stay above water," she said.

"I plan on doing this as long as the need is there."

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com