Big Things, Small Package: Kindergartner Donates Birthday Money

(L to R): Flanked by members of the special hockey team, Ethan Arnone hands a check to Program Director Rod Kolstee.
(L to R): Flanked by members of the special hockey team, Ethan Arnone hands a check to Program Director Rod Kolstee.

Article Contributed by
Cortney Linnecke

Ethan Arnone may be small, but he has a heart bigger than most. The Southwestern kindergartner recently used his 6th birthday as an opportunity to raise money for the Jamestown Lakers sled and special hockey teams. In lieu of receiving gifts at his ice-skating-themed birthday party two weeks ago, Ethan invited guests to bring monetary donations for the hockey teams. By the end of the celebration, he had raised $350.

Ethan’s mother, Michelle Arnone, says this act of generosity is not unusual for her son. In fact, it’s becoming tradition: each year, Ethan’s parents encourage him to pick a cause that matters to him. Then, come October, they help him use his birthday party as a chance to fundraise and give back to the community.

“This is his second birthday that we’ve picked an organization to raise a donation for,” Arnone said. “Last year we did the Audubon… We’ve started doing this with my daughter, too. She loves kitties and puppies, so when she turned 3 in March, everybody brought donations for the humane society.”

In a world where kids are inundated with so much stuff – toys, games, merchandise, electronics – the idea of a birthday party without any gifts may seem extraordinary. But according to Arnone, that’s exactly why she and her husband, Eric Arnone, wanted to forgo the presents. Instead of letting their children’s birthdays exemplify materialism and excess, they wanted to teach their kids a lesson in selflessness.

“Kids get so much stuff,” Michelle Arnone said. “It becomes, here’s another toy to play with for a short amount of time, put in the closet, and then never look at again. It’s wasteful and it creates this mentality of ‘I want, I want, I want.’ We’re just trying to help our kids understand that it can be much better to give to others.”

The lesson seems to be learned: when asked how he felt about fundraising for the sled and special hockey teams, Ethan said, “Good, ’cuz I’m helping people.” He also added that even without presents, he still had a great time at his birthday party, which was held at the ice rink: “We ice skated. I was being silly and using the walker!”

While Ethan might have been using a walker to help him skate at his party, he didn’t necessarily need one. That’s because Ethan is a hockey player himself, which is how he and his parents got the idea to donate to the Lakers in the first place.

“I guess you could say we’re a hockey family,” Arnone said. “This will be Ethan’s third year playing hockey. That’s how we came up with his party’s ice skating theme, and that’s why we chose to donate to the [sled and special] hockey program.”

Local kindergartner Ethan Arnone donated his birthday money to the Lakers sled and special hockey teams.

Ethan may not yet understand the full impact his donation will have on the Lakers, but there is one person who does: Rod Kolstee, the sled and special hockey program director. Kolstee has been with the teams since special hockey formed in 2003, when he and Chuck DeAngelo kickstarted the program to give athletes with developmental disabilities a chance to take the ice. Sled hockey came later, in 2012, for athletes with physical disabilities.

“I was just amazed when I learned about the donation,” Kolstee said. “Instead of presents, which is all kids usually want at birthday parties, this little guy picked us as an organization to support. It just goes to show you that some kids are really brought up right.”

According to Kolstee, the sled and special hockey teams have many costs that Ethan’s donation can help alleviate. The teams let all their athletes play free of charge, which means the program is often left to cover the costs of new equipment and ice time. All that normally tallies up to a minimum of $8,000 a season, and while the teams try to fundraise, donations are always welcomed.

“This will really help,” Kolstee said. “The Arnones are a great family.”

As for Ethan and his family, they hope to continue their spirit of magnanimity with next year’s birthday circuit.

“We try to pick things that are important to our community,” Michelle Arnone said. “If we don’t help programs like this, we could lose them. We’re big supporters of what we have locally. There’s so many people out there that are less fortunate than us, so if we can help them in even a little way, it makes a big difference.”

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Cortney Linnecke is a freelance writer and sports enthusiast from Stow, NY. As a high school student, Cortney approached athletics as if it were a buffet. She sampled as many sports as her school would allow and ended up lettering in most of them, including softball, track, boys' golf and her game of choice, soccer. At SUNY Geneseo, Cortney traded soccer cleats for ice skates on the women's club hockey team. When not busy practicing slap shots, Cortney earned bachelor degrees in English and international relations, and made time to write. Her work has been featured in SUNY Geneseo’s newspaper The Lamron, The Chautauquan Daily and Geneseo's academic research journal, The Proceedings of GREAT Day. She is delighted to become a contributing writer at the Jamestown Gazette.