By Katie McFadden
Last year, the community came out strong for Team Sister Strong, and helped Julia O’Sullivan raise the most money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), earning her the title of Student of the Year in New York. Now Rockaway resident Angelina LoBianca has been passed the torch and is leading Team Fight with your Smile in hopes of being named Student Visionary of the Year by raising money for a charity that has helped local kids like Rocco Pisani and others through their battles with blood cancer.
Last year’s local campaign for LLS was an overwhelming success. Up against 20 other high school students, O’Sullivan, who led the team in honor of her sister, Siobhan, who battled leukemia, and Siobhan’s friend, Rocco Pisani, also facing the battle, came out victorious, raising more than $122K for LLS. “We had such a great turnout from the community, and she wound up winning,” Rocco’s mom Jamie Pisani said. “It was amazing.”
Rocco Pisani, who was part of Team Sister Strong, also had success, raising more than $50K of the team’s money alone. For his hard work and his knack for public speaking and motivating others throughout his own ongoing cancer battle, Rocco has been named the Honored Hero of the LLS Student Visionary of the Year campaign and has been tasked with sending all fundraisers fun, motivational videos as they cross milestones. From shots of him doing pullups to shooting hoops, going on his third year in his battle with leukemia, with daily medication, monthly chemo treatments and an occasional spinal tap for maintenance through September, Rocco’s videos are serving as the motivation that the fundraisers need to make it to their next goal. “It’s good motivating them to raise more money,” Rocco Pisani said. “It’s fun. I like to motivate people to do better.”
As the Honored Hero, Pisani can’t join any fundraising team this year, but Jamie Pisani and Maura O’Sullivan, both now on the LLS Leadership Board, knew just the girl for the job of leading another team to victory. They nominated family friend and Scholars’ Academy junior Angelina LoBianco to take the reins and lead the local fundraising team this year. As an honor student and well-rounded student athlete, they knew LoBianco had the brains, that competitive spirit and an outgoing personality to lead the way.
“We knew that Angelina has the characteristics of someone who would be perfect for this title. She’s such a good person and she’s confident and smart and we knew she could run a team. She’s a leader and we know she’d be perfect to lead the team and do everything necessary to win this competition,” Jamie Pisani said. The LoBianco family has also been there for the Pisanis ever since Rocco was diagnosed in 2020. “Rocco is best friends with her brothers. They helped us tremendously when we were busy with Rocco’s treatments,” Jamie Pisani said. “Her brothers Johnpaul and Justin were the first visitors I had when I got home from the hospital,” Rocco Pisani said.
So when LoBianco decided to accept the nomination for Student Visionary of the Year, she knew just how important LLS is to families like the Pisanis. “It’s such a good cause,” she said. “And my family and I are so competitive, so I know we’re going to do this and win.”
That positive outlook is the whole basis of LoBianco’s team Fight with your Smile. “Our team is working to spread awareness and raise money to hopefully find a cure and end cancer, but we want to raise money while spreading positivity,” LoBianco said. Her team consists of Aliana Accardo, Alexa Nolan, Edona Xhani, Danielle Steiner, Jaliene Caban, Niley Jones, Michala Mitchell, Stephanie Shannon, Logan Pjura, and Kait Pearsall with plenty of support from others. LoBianco and her mom came up with the perfect logo for their campaign, featuring a smiley face with a cancer awareness ribbon as the mouth, to use on flyers and t-shirts that will be up for sale to help raise funds.
Since the campaign launched on January 19, LoBianco has already hit the ground running, working with family and friends on her team to come up with creative ways to fundraise, and sharing their fundraising page. LoBianco has set out with a fundraising goal of somewhere between $100K and $150K by the deadline of March 7. Within the first week alone, her team has already raised $11K. “One of my friends raised five grand by sending the donation link to family members. It’s exciting,” LoBianco said. “The first donation we got, it was so emotional.”
Off to a good start, team Fight with your Smile will be hosting several local events for people to participate in and help them raise funds. The first is this Saturday, February 4 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at RBQ (97-20 Rockaway Beach Blvd.), where Jerry O’Sullivan and Rich Pontieri will be slinging drinks behind the bar while Bloodline Duo plays some tunes. Enjoy this day of laughs with music, raffles and 50/50s to help raise funds for the cause.
Another big fundraising event will take place on Friday, February 17 at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club (533 Beach 126th Street). Enjoy a night of live music by The Rockawades and the Brooklyn Bards, 50/50s and some great raffle prizes. Entry is $20 and doors open at 6 p.m.
For those attending the Elk Family ski trip from February 20 through 23, there will be a raffle during the trip and shirts and sweatshirts will be available for sale that participants can wear while going down the mountain to raise awareness.
On Saturday, March 4, all are welcome to start their St. Patrick’s Day Parade Day with a 5K run or one-mile walk with the Rockaway Track Club to help raise funds. Check in is at 8 a.m. at Healy’s Pub and there will be plenty of time to participate before the parade begins. Special Fight with Your Smile shamrock shirts, donated by St. James Clothing, will be up for sale for this event. To pre-register, head to RockawayTC.org
Another big $10,000 grand prize raffle will also be held. The drawing is expected to be held at Jameson’s on February 26, but tickets are now for sale through the team members.
Aside from the events, LoBianco and her teammates are coordinating various fundraisers at their individual schools including Scholars’ Academy, The Mary Louis Academy, St. Edmunds, Mark Twain and schools in Long Island. People are also welcome to donate directly on the Fight with your Smile fundraising page, that can be found by scanning the QR code (QR code below) or at https://events.lls.org/nyc/svoynyc23/tfightwith For raffle tickets or t-shirts, contact the LoBianco family at 516-316-0399 or AngelinaLob603@gmail.com
LoBianco and team Fight with your Smile has until March 7 to raise the most money possible for LoBianco to be named Student Visionary of the Year. If she wins, she’ll receive a scholarship for college. “We really hope the community comes together for this. Of course, we want Angelina to win, but we want to help as many people as we can and LLS is a great outlet for that,” Jamie Pisani said.
All of the money raised by LoBianco’s team will go toward research, in hopes of one day finding a cure for blood cancers, or at the very least, creating better treatments, something Honored Hero Rocco Pisani knows is much needed. He’ll be cheering all of the fundraising teams on in their efforts. “I’m glad I got the role as Honored Hero,” Rocco Pisani said. “This is a really good cause and I’m excited to help people raise money for kids to go through something better than I did.”