Ryan Kelly family partners with Friends of St. George to present monetary awards to students in his honor
By Melissa Komar
When Port Richmond resident Ryan Kelly, 21, was fatally shot on Thanksgiving morning almost two years ago, his family decided to turn their tragedy into an opportunity for the community that Ryan loved.
Over the past few months, the Kelly family has worked with Friends of St. George to create the Ryan Kelly Award, a monetary award given to six students at the elementary school Ryan attended.
“The most important thing is to change a family’s life in Ryan’s name,” said Amy Campbell, Ryan’s sister. “Being a Saint George Dragon was very important to him. He made lifelong friends there, and the teachers helped mold him into the man he became. And we wanted to help kids who are having the same experience.”
Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students were invited to write about one of three essay topics: What Saint George means to you, what does it mean to be a Saint George Dragon, or how will Saint George shape your future.
The essays were submitted without student names to the Kelly family and they chose their favorite essays. A first- and second-place recipient were chosen for each grade.
For the Kellys, the experience was cathartic.
“It was a good thing for me and my family to reflect on things at Saint George that would have been important to Ryan and remember why he loved the school so much,” Campbell said.
The award recipients were announced at the banquet following the 6th annual Friends of St. George Golf Outing, the largest school fundraiser sponsored by Friends of St. George, on Sunday, April 30.
First-place winners Maura Zesdorn (fifth grade), Ava Boyle (sixth grade) and Landon Culver (seventh grade) each received $2,000 toward next year’s tuition. Second-place winners Manny Morales (fifth grade), Shane Smith (sixth grade) and Christopher Caruso (seventh grade) each received $500 toward next year’s tuition.
Funds for the awards were generated by the inaugural Ryan Kelly Memorial Beef and Beer held last October.
An anonymous guest from the golf outing donated an additional $1,500 on the day of the banquet, bringing the total award for the second-place winners to $1,000.
Ava, 12, has attended Saint George since pre-K and was honored to have her essay selected.
“I was so excited because earlier this year, we did a cleanup at the playground for him and I was so happy that his family so generously donated this in his memory,” Ava said.
According to Ava, students did not know beforehand the essays would be judged.
“I just put my true feelings about the school in the essay,” Ava said. “I wrote that Saint George means intelligence and friendship. I made so many memories here that I’ll never forget and have had a very good learning experience. I’m very proud of Saint George and how much it has grown since I’ve been here.”
The one word Ava used to sum up her experience at Saint George was “family.”
It’s that concept that motivated Saint George to support the Kelly family in their mission to remember Ryan, according to Dan Markowski, principal at St. George.
“Anytime for us a situation like this happens, something tragic and unexpected, you want to reach out and do whatever you can to help,” he said. “We have been blessed that the Kelly family has given us that opportunity to do that in working hand-in-hand with them to not only keep Ryan’s memory alive, but based on his experiences here and their experience as a family, to pay it forward to the students who are walking in Ryan’s footsteps.”
Aside from the awards, the Kelly family partnered with Saint George to have a tree planted next to the school in honor of Ryan and organized a cleanup at Samuel Recreation Center in his name last November.
The Kelly family plans to present the Ryan Kelly Award annually to not only keep Ryan’s memory alive, but to show their appreciation to the school.
“The Saint George community was great through our loss of Ryan. They were just so supportive,” Campbell said. “We just want to give back to the community. It’s a huge honor for my family and me to work with Saint George and Friends of St. George to keep Ryan’s memory alive.”
The 2nd annual Ryan Kelly Memorial Beef and Beer will be held on Friday, Oct. 6, from 7 to 11 p.m. at The Southampton Room, 2980 Southampton Road. Tickets cost $30 and are available until Oct. 1. To purchase tickets or donate items for raffle, contact Amy Kelly-Campbell at 267–207–4665 or William Kelly at 215–900–5228. Proceeds benefit Friends of St. George.