Support for teen hurt at practice overflowing

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JERSEY SHORE — Oh, the wonder of prayer. Oh, the love of community.

It’s been three weeks since Caleb Leone suffered a serious brain injury at football practice and his family asked that everyone pray for the 17-year-old son of Danielle and Jake Leone, of Jersey Shore.

Messages — “Pray for Caleb” and “#20 Strong” — appeared in businesses and on signs throughout the borough.

Prayer chains went into action, calling churches and other organizations to join the cause.

And the community came out in force to show its love to the family at this tragic time.

Dozens of fundraisers were started to support the Leones as they gather at Caleb’s bedside at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where he has remained in critical condition and in a coma since the accident.

The largest fundraiser was Sunday afternoon when hundreds of people turned out at an event hosted by Phil-It-Up, a borough drive-in restaurant that offered 20 percent of its proceeds to the Leones. A long line stretched out onto the street as customers waited to order ice cream and other food items.

The parking lot was filled as supporters sold T-shirts, wristbands and candles. A Chinese raffle saw up to 50 prizes and gift certificates up for grabs. There was a 50/50, and attendees were invited to write notes to Caleb. Several others were selling their wares with proceeds to benefit the Leones.

And a wonderful thing happened when Caleb’s father arrived at the event shortly after it began.

“He’s breathing on his own … for 30 hours … he’s been breathing on his own,” Jake said, a sense of relief in his voice as he spoke.

This is the best news the family has gotten from doctors since Caleb underwent major brain surgery shortly after the accident.

It gives the family and the entire community hope and encouragement.

It also makes them believe in prayer.

“And he moved his leg. I saw it today,” grandmother Nancy Leone said, as she passed out raffle tickets. She said she prays for the day when Caleb opens his eyes.

Jake said plans are being made to transfer Caleb to a traumatic brain rehabilitation center at Hershey Medical Center, maybe as early as today. The facility specializes in treating patients with this type of brain injury, he said.

Then the father’s attention turned to what he was seeing.

“This is just amazing. It’s awesome,” Jake said of the enormous turnout at the event.

“There are just so many wonderful people,” he continued, looking out into the crowd as one person after another walked up and hugged him.

Caleb’s sister, Aubree, 17, and grandparents Nancy and Dominic Leone were there too. Brother Isaiah was at Geisinger with Caleb’s mother.

Julie Bowes, whose family owns Phil-It-Up, was astonished at the turnout.

“It’s hard to imagine. Look what this community can do. Everyone wants to do something. The people in this community just keep giving and giving when the need arises. It’s just amazing,” she said.

The young people working in the restaurant for the event volunteered, she said.

“They are employees, but they are Caleb’s friends too … and they wanted to do something for him,” Bowes said.

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