Brian Jaeger, a seventh-grader at Farragut Middle School, still misses his aunt, Marla Payson Weizner, who died of kidney cancer in 2015, at age 45, leaving behind her husband and two young children. She also left a void in the Edgemont school community, where she had been a teacher at Greenville School for more than 20 years. In her memory, community members erected a statue of a child outside her classroom window.
Weizner and her sister, Jackie Payson Jaeger, Brian’s mom, both attended Edgemont schools. The Payson and Weizner families asked the Edgemont School Foundation to honor her legacy by establishing “Marla’s Fund” to create reading programs that would otherwise not be included in the school budget.
According to the ESF’s website, “the programs must meet the Foundation’s mission to enhance and ensure the value of an Edgemont education” as determined by the ESF Board of Directors, with consultation with the Payson-Weizner Family.”
“The fund was established right after her death in December 2015,” Jackie Jaeger said. “It’s through the Edgemont School Foundation. So they have a separate little fund in that called the Marla Fund. Her fund supports additional literacy programs, anything that helps literacy in the Edgemont elementary schools. That was my sister’s passion — teaching children how to read. Since she was a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, she had that gift of teaching kids how to read.”
Since Brian will become bar mitzvah this September, it was time for him to think about his “mitzvah project” — a way Jewish children who are coming of age are initiated into the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” by participating in community service. He decided to honor his aunt’s memory by contributing to Marla’s Fund.
Brian plays ice hockey on a travel team, the White Plains Plainsmen. So he decided to create a charity called “Stick Up To Cancer” through which he collects used hockey sticks, which are then distributed to children in underserved communities in the tri-state area. His parents are donating $5 to Marla’s Fund for every stick collected, and an anonymous donor is matching their contributions.
“I really loved my aunt, she was just the best,” Brian said. “I was really devastated when she passed away three years ago. I love hockey, so my mom and I thought... all right, let’s collect hockey sticks and we’ll donate that way, and her legacy will live on in the school.
“There are a lot of people who have these old hockey sticks lying around in their garage taking up space,” he added, “and we find something to do with them, so it’s a good cause.”
Donations of both hockey sticks and cash increased since Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner featured Brian’s charity on his social media posts two weeks ago. “A lot of people are mailing in checks,” Brian said. “It mostly comes from people who don’t have sticks but really love what I’m doing and want to contribute. Also, an anonymous donor said however much we make, they’re gonna match that and donate that much.”
Since Brian announced his program, local rinks set up bins to collect sticks, and TCM, a hockey equipment company, donated sticks.
Brian first put on ice skates when he was 5 years old, and took his first hockey lessons at 7. “I just really like it,” he said. “It’s a quick, fast game. You’re always moving. It’s physical, so you can use your body. And also you can learn some life lessons in hockey... how to be a team, cooperating, listening to peers and coaches.”
Getting involved is easy, Brian said. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Tell me where you live... if you have sticks, just tell me how many, where you live, and we’ll come pick them up. And if you don’t have hockey sticks, we’re totally open to a cash donation.” Checks can be made out to “Marla’s Fund-Edgemont School Foundation” and addressed to Brian Jaeger, 95 Scenic Drive, Hastings-on-Hudson 10706.
Brian has collected more than 460 hockey sticks and $1,600 in cash donations as of April 14. Jackie Jaeger commented, “It’s great to see an idea that he developed, and watched it, and nurtured it. He created this, and it’s been a great experience for him, very rewarding.”