Paris, who turns 2 in November, has neuroblastoma and the family travels to New York for weeks at a time so Paris can receive treatment at the disease's primary care facility.
After noticing Ralph Strickland's absences, students at Joseph Academy in Des Plaines, where he works in the crisis intervention room with students who are misbehaving, began asking where he was and Ralph decided to tell them his story.
"Ralph's kind of let all the students into his personal world," said Molly Larson, the school's assistant principal.
The kids at the school, which serves students with behavioral and learning disabilities, were heartbroken. The staff decided to start a fundraiser, "Pennies for Paris," to teach students about helping others, Larson said. The kids collected money and competed to see which class could raise the most. To reward their efforts, the three winning classes got to select a teacher to throw pies at.
Since the project began students have gone above and beyond to help. A child who needs a new pair of shoes gave $70 to the fund. One girl started a collection in her mom's beauty salon. Another child sold candy in his neighborhood. After donating money, one student asked staff members for a sandwich because his family cannot always afford to feed him. The school, which has 90 students in grades six through 12, raised $625. Staff members were initially hoping to raise $1 per student.
"They're in a position when at times they need to think of themselves and they're not," said Lauren Strickland, who met Ralph while both worked at the school, but left after they were married because they did not think working together was a good idea.
She said that people often view these kids solely based on their past mistakes.
"Given an opportunity, they really do shine," she said. "They would really do anything to help people who are helping them."
Tom Monticello, business manager for Joseph Academy, said the project has allowed students to develop a consciousness for helping others.
"It's something that will stay with them for life," Monticello said.
Teachers do not always see the impact they have on students, but the "Pennies for Paris" project has shown the staff the positive effect they have had on the kids, Monticello said.
"It just reminds them that we're doing a good job here," Larson said. "It's just really rewarding because we're in a position to influence their lives."
Ralph Strickland, who works in the crisis intervention room for students who are misbehaving, said that it's important to never give up on the kids. Monticello added that parents and school districts have sometimes done just that.
"You have to spend the time and dig a little deeper," Ralph Strickland said. "You have to go to their world to understand exactly where a kid is coming from."
Larson said students look up to Ralph Strickland and teachers often have to discourage them from trying to get in trouble so they can spend time with him.
"We can't always find people who want to invest so much of themselves," Larson said.
Lauren Strickland said the staff and students at Joseph Academy have formed a family. "A lot of our kids have just never felt so accepted and cared about," Larson said.
Speaking with co-workers has provided Ralph with an outlet for his stress. In addition, teachers give up lunch breaks to fill in for him when he is in New York because the school has no subs.
"That's just the way it was going to be," Monticello said. "We've become a part of each other's extended families."
The support from Joseph Academy, coupled with support from family and a neuroblastoma support group, helps the Stricklands keep a positive outlook. Lauren Strickland said that Paris herself keeps the family focused.
"Paris is a driving force," Lauren Strickland said. "We just keep going with her."
What is it: Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops in nerve cells, most commonly in or around the adrenal glands
Who gets it: The disease usually affects children age 5 and younger
How rare is it: While it is the most common cancer in babies, only about 650 people in the U.S. are diagnosed every year
For information: mayoclinic.com/health/neuroblastoma/DS00780
How to help
Here's information on upcoming fundraisers for Paris Strickland, along with her Web site.
• Lutheran Church of the Master's annual Summer Sunshine Concert this year has the theme "Music for Paris' Ears." The event is free and all donations will go to Paris' medical costs.
Time: 6 p.m., Sunday, June 28
Address: 580 N. Kuhn Road Carol Stream
• An event at The Lodge features a games tournament and raffles with prizes. There will be food and music. Details are being finalized; visit prayforparis.info/index.html for more information.
Time: 2 p.m., Saturday, July 11
Address: 5750 Lakeside Drive, Lisle
Cost: $25 or $30 for adults
• Other events will be listed at prayforparis.info/index.html