As a few dozen bikers and police cars left a parking lot at Greenway Park Elementary about noon Friday, 7-year-old Christopher Carriker-Lanning stood in front of the school. Flanked by a hospital nurse and his mother, he smiled and waved.
Christopher and his family have much to thank them for. He and Nathan De Souza were honored Friday by the crew, volunteers with Hometown Heroes, a Monroe charity that helps very ill and seriously injured children.
It's been a rough ride for the Greenway Park students. Christopher, a first-grader, has been battling a brain tumor for more than a year. His final chemotherapy treatment is scheduled for Oct. 1. Nathan, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, has been fighting leukemia since January 2006. He is in remission, but chemo has caused him heart problems.
Friday they were rewarded for their perseverance. Heroes volunteers picked them up and took them to Greenway Park in east Charlotte. Cheering classmates greeted them, holding signs such as “Welcome Heroes” and “You Rock Nathan and Chris.”
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The boys stood in a parking lot with the volunteers, principal Valerie Gray, and their parents and siblings. Christopher's classmates waved strips of yellow and green (the school's colors) paper and wore the paper as capes with messages such as “Christopher is our Hero.” They and Nathan's classmates chanted “Chris-to-pher” and “Na-than.”
“It's a wonderful opportunity to celebrate those boys, given the fact that they've been through more medically than most of these children could imagine,” Gray said. “I'm just thrilled to be able to do this.”
Donnie Dixon, a retired Monroe police officer, helped start Heroes a decade ago. The non-profit has about 40 active members, many of them cops and retired cops. About 300 have volunteered at one time for Heroes, to help 48 families. Their motto: “Big Kids Helping Little Kids.”
“We've lost quite a few good kids,” said Mike Smith, a captain with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office. “But to see (them) smile and know you're doing a little bit of good supersedes everything.”
Heroes have visited Nathan and Christopher in the hospital, called to check on them, bought them clothes, school supplies and a PlayStation; and paid their families' bills. “They give you an overwhelming feeling of compassion and love,” said Lyndsey Carriker, Christopher's mother.
On Friday, the Heroes donated $1,000 each to the families of 16 kids at a ceremony in Monroe. They then set out on another fund-raiser: A 200-mile, four-day ride to Fontana Lake (near Bryson City) and back. They sported T-shirts, selling ad space on the backs to sponsors.
Christopher and Nathan got to ride with them for part of the trip, which included the stop at Greenway Park. The boys looked overwhelmed by the attention there. Said Nathan: “I was shocked.”