DEPEW, N.Y. – On Thursday morning in front an excited group of students eagerly awaiting their chance to perform at the annual Beyond Learning Center (formerly Cantalician Center for Learning) Holiday Sing-A-Long, Principal Mark Blesy handed out the “Beyond Supportive” award to John and Margaret Gillig in recognition of their tremendous generosity.

The Gillig family not only provided gifts for 265 Beyond Learning Center students, but took it a step further by specifically curating each bag of toys, games, clothes and more for its intended student. This was an unsolicited, true act of generosity more than worthy of the “Beyond Supportive” award.

“Christmas is such a lovely time to be able to connect with people,” Margaret Gillig said of her plan to shop for and donate to this group. “Personally, doing this helped me get through COVID. It gave me a purpose and getting to know the students allowed me to really visualize what I needed to do to bring a small bit of joy to these kids, because everyone needs joy these days.”

Mark Blesy, a principal at Beyond Learning Center, formed a relationship with a Gillig family when the school schedule was still being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Margaret reached out to Blesy after receiving a referral from her parish. She was looking to help local children have a nice Christmas during a time when it was going to be difficult to connect with people. Beyond Learning Center, then known as the Cantalician Center for Learning, provided an opportunity and a captive audience for such generosity.

“At first I was thinking; a couple of children/students,” Margaret continued. “That was great fun, and with a list of specific needs, we were able to target each child’s needs rather than give them a generic gift. The following year, when I asked what the need was and Mark (Blesy) said ‘How many would you like’ I replied with ‘How many you got’ and it went from there.”

Margaret, with the help of her husband John, shops for months in advance of the holiday season and this year insisted that Blesy provide her a list of needs and wants for every single child so that each one of them could feel personally connected with the gifts they’d receive.

“The Beyond Learning Center is fortunate to have several families and companies that have donated to the holiday giving over the past few years,” Blesy added. “It is a testament to the relationship that our school has fostered within the community and the great people of Western New York.”

The “Beyond Supportive” award is a new iteration of the “Cantalician Community Leader” award, which was retired with the formation of Beyond Support Network. The recognition is presented annually to an individual, family or organization that goes above and beyond the call to serve and support the Beyond Support Network community. The recipients will in some way have shaped, improved or otherwise had a great effect on the individuals that Beyond Support Network serves.

This year, Cantalician Center for Learning and Learning Disabilities Association of WNY officially completed a merger to form Beyond Support Network. The merger brought together two organizations with a combined 123 years of service to the region and a record of collaborating to provide a wide range of support services. Together, as Beyond Support Network, the organization has crystallized the work it does in helping people achieve important goals, and the many ways as it can help them continue their personal growth by building a community of opportunity.