The Power of the Princess
Photography provided by Paige’s Princess Foundation
Six-year-old Paige Alessandro loved princesses.
Paige was a “girly girl” according to her mother, Heather Alessandro, but princesses for Paige were about more than sparkly crowns and pink ball gowns. Princesses, Heather says, tend to “rise above it while always being kind and brave.” It’s about growing through adversity.
For Paige, adversity meant living with disabilities that made it difficult for her to participate in sports and the kind of roughhousing many kids enjoy. “So she became very gentle,” Heather says. “Her favorite princess was Belle (of “Beauty and the Beast”) because she was smart and read books.”
Heather has channeled this lesson and the beloved memory of Paige into a unique community service called Paige’s Princess Foundation, an organization focused on helping kids whom, she says, have Paige’s same “sweetness and indefatigable spirit.”
The foundation provides financial grants to local families for therapies and treatments for their children with disabilities. “Because these kids are dealing with chronic conditions,” Heather says, “treatments will never stop.”
Those treatments often include multiple occupational and physical therapy sessions in a hospital setting each week. “As kids,” Heather says, “who wants to go to the hospital that much? It’s exhausting.” Alternative therapies like music therapy and hippotherapy (horseback riding) can achieve similar results outside a clinical setting, while letting “kids be kids.”
Heather knows the cost of alternative therapies can be daunting if they aren’t covered by insurance. That’s where Paige’s Princess Foundation grants come in. “We often hear that these kids would not be able to continue therapy without these additional funds,” Heather says.
Heather describes a huge void in her family’s life after losing Paige at age 6 in 2010 following complications related to a chronic spinal disability. “We all felt that Paige was very special and that her disability actually made her spirit and personality so joyful and loving. You would look at her and say, ‘If she can be in that much pain and still be so sweet and happy, then I need to be a better person, too.’ ”
Heather wanted to take that outlook – “The one that never said, ‘Why me?’ or complained” – and use it in a way that would make Paige proud. “Now when I meet some of the families who have these special kids, I can see some of the same joy and determination that Paige had, and it helps me connect back to her and keep my own perspective positive.”
Although Heather puts in many hours alongside the other directors – most of whom have day jobs – Paige’s Princess Foundation is also a family affair. “All of our kids are involved and that also makes it very rewarding,” she says. “They get to work together on something important with us and see the lives we get to impact. I’m sure she would be so proud of her siblings and friends who continue to work in her name.”
Heather’s children often help with events like a recent inclusive excursion to a sensory-friendly movie. “My daughter Haley asked if she would get to see one of the attendees (a past grant recipient) at this event,” Heather says. “And it made me proud because from Haley’s perspective, seeing him was a treat for her, not the other way around.”
In fact, Heather says the foundation works from the vantage point that the families being helped represent a mutual benefit to those providing support. The family gets some much-needed relief, and the foundation volunteers are buoyed through the experience. It’s just another way Paige’s spirit lives in the local community.
The foundation will host more inclusive community events like the movie outing. “It can be very difficult and exhausting to go out as a family when you need special accommodations,” Heather says. “We want to make that easier by designing events where all are welcome, and it’s just easy to navigate.”
The foundation also celebrated Paige’s birthday on March 21 as a “kindness initiative,” Heather says. Participants celebrated Paige’s life by performing good deeds.
Later this spring, the foundation will hold its major fundraiser, the sixth annual Princess Run on June 4 at Paige’s kindergarten, Wyandot Early Childhood Center in Liberty Township. Heather says around 700 participants will take part in the “princess-themed” 5K run or walk, which will culminate in a family carnival.
Money from the Princess Run makes up about 50 percent of the foundation’s yearly budget. Heather says the organization is able to help about 30 local children from the event’s proceeds.
“We have tried to make it a celebration of Paige’s life,” she says. “We love to see people from her life still come back together and help us support our foundation.”
Heather says the focus is on making memories through a fun, family friendly event that is energized by Paige’s legacy year after year. “When so many of her loved ones come together at the run, you can feel her love for us all come back to life.”
For information about Paige’s Princess Foundation, donate or sign up for the Princess Run, visit www.paigesprincessrun.com.