Ironworkers Forge Bond With Cancer Kids

Group paints children's names on building's beam to honor their cancer fight.

March 06, 2009, 1:59 PM

March 6, 2009— -- A group of Boston ironworkers is building more than just a new cancer treatment center. The ironworkers are sending a powerful message to hundreds of young cancer patients -- one name at a time.

"It was spontaneous. I think one child put their name on a window. One ironworker saw that name, spray painted, 'Hi Kids,' and then that name on a beam -- and it just grew from there," said Michael Walsh, a general foreman with Ironworker Local 7.

As the workers of the union local maneuver the building's heavy iron beams into place, they are being watched by scores of children in the glass walkway at the neighboring Jimmy Fund Clinic, part of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Each day, the children, many of whom are being treated for aggressive cancers, raise signs in a window with their names written on them for the construction workers to see.

"You put your name on a piece of paper and then hold it up to the window and the people will see and then they'll spray paint your name on," said 10-year-old Tommy.

Tommy, whose vision has been restored by chemotherapy treatments at the clinic, knows his name is on a third floor beam.

"Now I know I'm always part of this building," he said.

The workers paint the names of the children on girders in bright-colored spray paint. The patients watch intently and cheer as the I-beams with their first names -- Ryan, Allen, Nolan, Kristen, Giovanni, Patrice, Ronald, Katie, Jacob -- painted brightly on them are hoisted into place for a new building; a building that will later be used by Dana-Farber to treat them.

"Every week when we come, we get something new, something to look forward to," said Tina Fuoco, mother of Nicholas, a 12-year-old Dana-Farber patient.

"Even if they can't see it when it's all complete, they know that their names are in there forever," Nicholas said.

Workers Weather Cold to Honor Kids

Through freezing wind, workers have paid tribute to more than 100 children with the fluorescent paint.

"It's been a tough winter. Cold. Snowy," said Walsh, a 27-year veteran. "But this job, the men have been plowing through because they know they're going to see the kids."

The beams give these young children a special way of knowing that they are cared for -- and are not alone.

"It's a simple act of kindness. And they don't even understand how much it means -- you know, not only to her but to the entire family," said Liz Hoenshaw, mother of Dana-Farber patient.

The ritual began in 1996 when the ironworkers built the Research Laboratories at Dana-Farber. It seemed natural to do it again. The ironworkers said it's a way to honor the children.

"You're bringing a little bit of joy into their lives," Walsh said. "So this job is probably one of those jobs most of us will never forget. There's a lot of softies up there working for me right now."

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