He’s only in seventh grade, but Ryan Hirschhorn already has a long history of helping others. The student at Berner Middle School in the Massapequa School District recently hosted an event to raise money for medical aid for Ukraine.
Hearts for Ukraine, a fundraiser and celebration of art, was held at the Long Island Children’s Museum on Jan. 6. In addition to guest speakers, there was a performance by a Ukrainian children’s dance troupe and a viewing of Ryan’s Hearts for Ukraine sculptures. The event raised about $20,000 for Project C.U.R.E., which provides humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, including medical equipment and supplies.
Ryan’s artwork was inspired by a paper heart sculpture he made in fourth grade at Birch Lane Elementary School. At the fundraiser, he acknowledged his Magnet program teacher, Kelsey Downey, who assigned that project. After the war in Ukraine began, Ryan created his first Hearts for Ukraine sculpture, a collection of different sized aluminum blue and yellow hearts, representing the country’s colors. That was displayed at Birch Lane for a few weeks at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, and during the summer at Maimonides Park, where the Brooklyn Cyclones play, for a game between the Ukrainian national baseball team and the FDNY and NYPD.
He has created two more sculptures since. One is a nine-foot by nine-foot heart wall with blue and yellow hearts that are lit by LED lights. It includes an ultrasound motion sensor that increases the brightness of the lights as someone gets closer. The eight-inch thick wall is intentionally cracked and chipped to resemble walls of buildings that have been damaged during fighting in Ukraine.
The other sculpture, “Peace and Progress,” features white and silver hearts. White represents peace and silver is for progress. Behind the aluminum hearts is a mural with a rainbow array of hearts and a dove. Ryan noted that all of his sculptures are filled with symbolism.
“I love to help people, and doing this is helping a lot of people,” Ryan said, noting that his recent charity event, combined with one last year, have collectively raised about $40,000 for Project C.U.R.E.
Ryan said that with the war in Ukraine nearing a year, he is concerned that people may have forgotten about it. He empathizes with children there who constantly leave in fear, and said it gives him perspective about the gravity of problems.
“We need to raise awareness because it’s been almost a year,” he said. “Nobody really knows what’s going on over there and we need to change that.”
Ryan’s guidance counselor, Nick Breslin, was struck by the magnitude of Ryan’s efforts, as well as his strong desire to help others.
“It’s inspiring that he wants to spread awareness for what’s going on over there,” Mr. Breslin said. “It comes from a place of wanting to help.”
As a fifth grader, Ryan and classmate Tyler Uberti teamed up with the Kids for Kids Foundation to raise more than $5,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They organized a virtual polar plunge, in which participants could submit a video of themselves jumping into a body of water or doing another cold activity, then donate to St. Jude.
1: Berner Middle School seventh grader Ryan Hirschhorn recently organized a charity event that raised more than $20,000 for Project C.U.R.E. to send military aid to Ukraine.
2: Ryan talked about his Hearts of Ukraine fundraiser with Principal Jason Esposito and executive assistants to the principal Keri Wing, left, and Beth Mullins, who said they are extremely impressed with Ryan’s philanthropic spirit.
Photos courtesy of the Massapequa School District