By Bob Uphues
The north end of Brookfield is a sea of blue ribbons, lights and signs announcing that the village is #MaxxStrong in an outpouring of support, compassion and hope for the recovery of 11-year-old Maxx Kusper, who was very seriously injured March 28 by an Amtrak train at the Prairie Avenue crossing.
According to his mother, Marcey Raymond Kusper, Maxx remains in critical condition, but she said she has been overwhelmed by the response the family has received as word spread on social media.
"The support Brookfield and the Hollywood community have shown us has been overwhelming, amazing and humbling," said Kusper in an email to the Landmark. "I've always loved Brookfield and have been one of its biggest cheerleaders. I've never felt such love."
The response was immediate and spontaneous.
On Monday, people began blanketing anything upright – trees, light poles, fences, windows -- in blue ribbons and #MaxxStrong hashtags.
"Seeing the town blanketed in blue has just been amazing to see," Kusper said. "It has especially helped Maxx's siblings. … Because of the coronavirus, visitors [at the hospital] are restricted. They so want to see their brother. Seeing the town blanketed in blue, Maxx's favorite Cubby blue, has been a big help.
One family friend, Chris Borzym, heard about the campaign to cover the village in blue ribbons and, with his Brookfield floral business on forced hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, sprang into action.
He rounded up a supply of blue plastic tablecloths and, with the help of Maria Verduzco of Loca Mocha, started tying ribbons on every tree that crossed their paths.
"By the time I went home, on Washington Avenue it was absolutely, utterly amazing," Borzym said. "There was not a tree missed, not a light pole missed. There are literally thousands of these bows all over the place."
Kari Giocomelli, a friend of the Kuspers, whose son has been a close friend of Maxx's since kindergarten and plays Little League baseball with him, has served as a sort of clearinghouse of information about efforts, which have been multipronged, because of the Kusper family's connections inside and outside of Brookfield – from Brookfield Little League and the Brookfield Nationals baseball club to the Village Field Club in LaGrange Park to her neighbors in Hollywood and north Brookfield to her fellow faculty members at Morton West High School in Berwyn, where she teaches freshman English.
Not to mention the more than 10,500 members of the Brookfield Connections Facebook group, which Kusper administers.
"Maxx is a special kid," said Giocomelli. "He's charismatic, funny, athletic, a friend to everyone. Marcey also has this extended family, and that's why the community is pulling together."
The ribbon campaign got a huge boost from the Facebook, while a group of Marcey's childhood friends, said Giocomelli, have banded together to have 300 #MaxxStrong signs printed. The signs ought to coming next week, Giocomelli said, and any proceeds from the sale of the signs will go toward Maxx's recovery.
Brookfield Little League is selling T-shirts with the #MaxxStrong hashtag on the front and Maxx's number 23 on the back through April 6 online at squareup.com/store/BLLSpiritShop, with 100-percent of the proceeds going toward Maxx's recovery. The T-shirts, Giacomelli said, are being donated by the Brookfield retailer T-Shirts and Trophies.
"Obviously, the community here has really rallied for Maxx," said Dave Campbell, who, along with Maxx's father, Don, has coached Maxx's Little League and travel baseball teams for the past five years. "It's been overwhelming. Everyone has just responded in a positive way. He's just an amazing kid, and we're praying that he gets well soon."
Meanwhile, in response to a request from Brookfield Little League, the Brookfield Citizens Police Academy Alumni donated about three dozen blue light bulbs they had left over from last year's National Night Out. The Little League organization then began distributing them for people's front lights.
In addition to the signs hanging in people's homes, the staff at Hollywood School, where Maxx is a fifth-grader, wrapped all their trees in blue and placed a sign of support in the gymnasium window.
Hollywood School Principal Kim Hefner said blue ribbons adorn trees at all District 96 schools and the teachers are working on a video they can share with Maxx.
"He's a child who brightens everybody's day," Hefner said. "He's kind-hearted, empathetic and never has a bad word to say to anybody. He's a leader among the kids, and it's just extremely tragic."
Brookfield's former police chief, Jim Episcopo and his wife, Sue – known for their army of inflatable front-lawn decorations – showed their support by setting up a giant inflatable baseball with the #MaxxStrong hashtag at their Grand Boulevard home.
"The response has been tremendous," Jim Episcopo said.
Giocomelli said there's also an effort under way to collect as many photos (Brookfield Little League is urging families to don "rally caps" in their photos) as possible expressing support for Maxx's recovery. Photos can be emailed to MaxxStrong23@yahoo.com.
"The idea in documenting this is to let Maxx know, "Look how far you've come and we're rooting you on."
The inability of people to visit Maxx at the hospital or gather to console one another and the family, those other ways of supporting the family have stood in for that personal contact.
"It's the coming together to tell stories and hug each other are all the things that help humans deal with grief," Hefner said. "It's hard to be so isolated and not be able to support the family by just being present. It makes the ribbons and videos and rally caps more important."
This story has been changed to correct the group of people behind the #MaxxStrong yard signs.