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Selfless Purchase Teen Receives Leadership Award

HARRISON, N.Y. - Purchase resident Joseph Lovinger raised more than $2,000 for Jacob's Cure selling hand-made duct tape wallets and was thanked for his efforts when the group presented him with its 2011 Young Leadership Award.

The 13-year-old has been a friend to Jacob Sontag, the namesake of Jacob's Cure, for more than seven years, the group said. He was honored at the Jacob's Cure Family Bowl event to "strike out Canavan disease" late October.

"When I met Jacob in first grade at Purchase Elementary, I knew right away there was something special about him," Lovinger said. "As I grew older, I began to appreciate his fighting spirit and perseverance. I wanted to help his cause, but I never knew how I could do so."

Sontag is afflicted with Canavan disease, a rare genetic brain disease. Children with Canavan become trapped in their bodies, develop seizures, lose their ability to see and swallow, and if untreated, could die in the first decade of life. Sontag will celebrate his 16th birthday in February.

The wallet project came into existence almost by accident. One afternoon, he and his friend stumbled across a YouTube video demonstrating how to make origami wallets. After attempting to sell the wallets in school, they realized paper wallets were not marketable, so they decided to try duct tape, Lovinger said.

The new wallets were available in customized colors and designs. They were such a hit with their friends that the two boys went into business together and created their company, JDWallets.

"I felt honored and also very proud that I had achieved such a great thing for Jacob," Lovinger said after receiving the award.

Joseph's father Daniel Lovinger said he started using one of the duct tape wallets and admired the simplicity of the design. While shopping, he took the wallet out to pay for a purchase at Candy Rox in Rye when the owner stopped him and asked him where he had purchased it.

Lovinger told the store owner about his son, forming a partnership with the clerk so that the money raised from the Candy Rox wallet sales benefits Jacob's Cure.

Joseph's parents said they were proud and supportive of their son's efforts.

"The work Joseph does on behalf of Jacob's Cure is his way of recognizing the bravery of a friend in as enduring a way as possible," Joseph's mother Linda Lovinger said. "He truly loves doing all he does for Jacob's Cure."

The research funded by Jacob's Cure has slowed or halted the progression of the disease in most of the children who received gene therapy and have begun the recommended pharmacological treatments.

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