April 4th, 2006 10:00 PM
By BILL DWYER
Longfellow third-grader Mackenzie Powell likes to cook almost as much as she likes being with other people.
So when she found out that one her grandfather's friends had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a way to help quickly came to mind.
Knowing how much she enjoyed cooking, Mackenzie's teacher, Roxanne Pasquinelli, suggested compiling a cookbook of family recipes, printing copies and selling them.
Mackenzie took right to the idea and enlisted the support of her schoolmates. The result is a culinary tome, "Cooking for a Cause," that appears likely to translate into a hefty contribution to the Les Turner ALS Foundation.
Three years ago, Longfellow alum and current Brookfield resident Marty Woywod was a strong, involved husband and father of two. Now he's in a wheelchair, three years into a stark diagnosis that has altered his life and that of his family.
Some people might just give up or grow bitter in the face of such terrible fortune. Woywod though, reached out to others and became a teacher of sorts. He returned to Longfellow several weeks ago to speak openly with the students there and answer their questions about the disease and how it's affected his life.
Although Woywod is facing his circumstances with courage and dignity, that alone is not enough. ALS is a disease that not only ravages the body, but can also destroy one's finances. Fundraising has thus become a crucial aspect of the Woywods' lives as they struggle to deal with the financial demands the disease places on them.
Mackenzie wanted help anyway she could.
"I was shocked and confused," Mackenzie wrote in a widely distributed e-mail after learning about Marty's illness. "After doing some research, I learned that only 20 percent of people with ALS live past five years. I decided that I wanted to do something, anything, to help support my family, Marty and his family, and future families subjected to this unfortunate illness."
Mackenzie invited people to submit recipes for the cookbook to Pasquinelli by March 17 via mail, e-mail, or a drop box in the school's lobby.
"Our hope is to have the cookbooks assembled and ready to sell during the month of April," she said, signing off, "With gratitude, Mackenzie Powell and the 3rd graders at Longfellow school."
The response was better than they had expected. Mackenzie and her teacher are currently sorting through between 125 and 150 recipes.
The response wasn't limited to Oak Park. "People from outside of Oak Park, from Cicero and elsewhere, heard about it and mailed in recipes," said Pasquinelli, who hopes to have them all typed up and ready for the printer sometime by the end of April.
Cookbooks will probably sell for $5 a piece. Mackenzie hopes to be able to present a check to the Woywods at an April 22 fundraiser at St. Barbara's Church in Brookfield.
An artistic helping hand
For the cookbook's cover, Pasquinelli wanted a "Stone Soup Cook Book" sort of look. And that's where Longfellow art teacher Jenny Raia's Tuesday Art Workshop came in.
Raia's 20 or so fifth-grade artists serve as the school's official art resource center, and Raia knew just the artist to do the cover art workâ€"fifth-grader Breanne Taylor.
Breanne drew a series of possible designs and showed them to Pasquinelli and Raia, then drew up the final design.
Mackenzie said she's delighted with all the help and support.
"I'm really happy that people are doing this and helping people with ALS," she said. "What I really like is that Breanna helped do the book cover."
So far the book has about 200 orders, but everyone expects that number to grow dramatically between now and the April 22 fundraiser.
"We'll be selling them at Longfellow and by word of mouth," said Mackenzie.
"Once school gets back [after spring break], it will only get better," said her dad, Jeff.
"They're going to sell like hotcakes," said Pasquinelli confidently. "They're traditional recipes passed down through the years." Pasquinelli said she herself contributed three recipes, including her Grandma Nona's recipes for Sausage and Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatiore, and Tiramisu.
"Ooo, Grandma Nona's Sausage and Meatballs," she said with a smile.
From author to radio star
Mackenzie's marketing efforts got a boost last weekend after her grandfather, retired River Forest Fire Lieutenant Richard Powell, forwarded her e-mail solicitation to WGN Radio morning personality Steve Cochran. Cochran has a weekly feature called "Cochran's Kid of the Week," in which he touts the selfless efforts of young people under 18. Entries are judged on the "inventive, brave, generous, selfless, charitable, resourceful, kind and creative aspects of the act."
Mackenzie's effort doesn't require bravery, but certainly has every other virtue on Cochran's list.
A WGN producer called last Friday morning, asking if Mackenzie would be available to speak with Cochran on air about her project on Saturday. It was short notice, especially as last week was the school's spring break. But Mackenzie's mother Jayme has some 143 e-mail addresses of Longfellow parents, so there was a pretty good crowd listening Saturday.
Sitting in her pajamas next to her mom just after 10 Saturday morning, Mackenzie smiled nervously as she got her 15 minutes of fameâ€"well, seven or eight, anyway.
Introducing her as "the legendary Mackenzie Powell," Cochran proved adept at getting her to relax, first by talking about her nicknames, pets and other interests.
"Can I call you Mac Attack?" he asked engagingly.
"Sure," said his guest, smiling.
Cochran then read the e-mail her grandpa had sent, outlining the project for listeners.
After getting the serious stuff out of the way, Cochran really won her over by poking good-natured fun at her two older brothers. Learning that Mackenzie's favorite animal was the monkey, Cochran queried, "Do [your brothers] remind you of monkeys?"
"Yes," she replied, somewhat hesitantly.
"That's why," quipped Cochran to a suddenly very amused Mackenzie.
She may not have been looking for anything more than the satisfaction of helping her dad's friend, but Cochran had a reward for her good deed anyway.
"She's going to Shedd Aquarium with all her friends," he told his radio audience, adding, "But not her monkey brothers."
Mackenzie was smiling but flushed afterwards.
"I was excited and kind of nervous," she said. "But he made me comfortable by the middle of it. He was funny."
For all the excitement of being on the radio, though, Mackenzie remains focused on the goal of helping Marty Woywod and his family. There's still work to do before she presents him with that check April 22.
Editor's note: In interest of full disclosure, Mackenzie Powell is a second cousin to Wednesday Journal writer Bill Dwyer, and Richard Powell is his uncle.