High school students honor late classmate with Hope-A-Thon

HOLLAND, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "If there's one thing about Maria, she was definitely brave and she's definitely dedicated," said 12th-grade student Grace Kelly.

Maria Middleton was a student at Villa Joseph Marie High School when she battled a brain tumor.

"She was a co founder of this event and it meant a lot to her, so we're dancing for her today," said Kelly about the school's Hope-A-Thon.

The charity dance marathon was first founded by a group of classmates that included Middleton roughly two years ago. Originally planned for the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic set back their hard work. Unfortunately, Middleton passed away in October of 2020 before the official event could come to fruition.

"Obviously, it was a bit of a shock to a lot of people," said Kelly. "But everybody rallied and we all gathered to support each other no matter the circumstances and today would really make her proud."

Students at the all-girls Roman Catholic high school spent months planning, fundraising, and designing decorations for the big day. Before the first song kicked off the seven-hour marathon, they had already raised more than $89,000 for Bringing Hope Home and Drew's Hope Research Foundation.

"There's no adults at all involved in this," said Tom Kardish, President of Villa Joseph Marie High School. "They think of every logistic, they raise every penny, they interact with the entire community. It's all them and we couldn't be more proud."

President Kardish spoke about the pain caused by the loss of Maria Middleton. Kardish says he knew the student since she was a baby, having attended high school with her father.

"The brightest, the most loving, the most faithful, class president," he said, listing off attributes. "I mean, literally was just the epitome of what a woman Villa Joseph Marie embodies."

Middleton was actively involved with charitable causes during her life.

"Instead of doing a Make-A-Wish trip, she actually sent funds and she went to help a school in Uganda," said 12th-grade student Maryellen Connelly. "She's just amazing, you know, everything she did."

The community of roughly 400 girls within her school have bonded closely. They are especially grateful that the school has implemented safety measures that have allowed for in-person learning for the entire school year.

To learn more about the school and its Hope-A-Thon, visit their website.

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