It may seem as if Jana Morgante’s proclivity for human kindness sprung from her experiences in dealing with two family members stricken with cancer, but the truth is she was always that way.
“She was always a compassionate person,” said Jennifer Carnevale, one of her teachers at Saugus High. “But when her sister and mother both went through cancer, that was a turning point for her.”
When Carnevale got an email from the Metta Students Foundation, a non-profit group out of Rhode Island that promotes acts of kindness among high school students, she knew exactly who to nominate. The Metta foundation agreed, and Morgante is February’s Metta Students Foundation Student of the Month. For being named recipient of the award, Morgante will receive a $1,000 grant to help the organization of her choice.
Morgante said she took her cues from her mother, Lisa, at an early age.
“She’s just like I am,” Morgante said. “Everything I do, I’ve learned from her. She’s motivated me to help people and make sure everyone’s OK.”
The Morgante family, and Jana in particular, has had some serious tests in recent years. Everything was fine until Morgante, now a senior at Saugus High, hit eighth grade. That’s when her older sister, Tyla, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“When we were younger,” Morgante said, “we had a kind of love-hate relationship, the way a lot of sisters do. I’m a twin (her brother, Jake, was captain of the football team and plays basketball), and it was always him and me against Tyla.
“But as we got older, we got closer, and by the time she got sick, we were real close. I was very angry, at first, that this happened to her,” she said, “But then I started going to her chemotherapy sessions with her and saw people from ages 2 to 20 sitting there, with no hair, and sick.”
So, she figured out the best way to cope with this situation — to be a ray of hope for the children who were at the Dana Farber Center in Boston. She raised more than $3,200 for the Farber center.
“We donated winter hats and gloves,” she said. “We bought them toys around Christmas time, and fall and spring baseball caps.
“On Halloween, we brought them toys, pencils, stickers, anything else I could find in stores that would be safe for kids.”
According to Carnevale, Morgante did this without prompting.
“I couldn’t do anything for my sister,” she said. “I guess I thought if I did something to help the kids, it would help her mentally.”
Tyla Morgante got through it, but not totally unscathed. Between the illness and the treatment, her bones got weak and she had to have a hip operation. She is now cancer-free and a student at Fitchburg State (where she’ll be joined by both Jana and Jake next year).
But that’s only half the story. Once Tyla got better, their mother fell ill — with breast cancer — in August of 2017.
“I couldn’t help but think ‘no, not again,'” she said.
But she couldn’t dwell on it.
“My sister was going to school, and I knew I had to step up and help because she was the one who usually did that.”
Saugus School Committeewoman Elizabeth Marchese, who is alongside Lisa Morgante for a lot of the booster work they do for the Saugus High sports program, said Jana was a life-saver when her mother became ill.
“She’s a very incredible kid,” said Marchese. “She’s not the typical 18-year-old.
“She and her mother are cut from the same cloth. They put everyone else ahead of themselves.
“Not only that,” Marchese said, “but Jana is an advocate for all the kids in the school. She is very good at speaking her mind.”
Morgante admits it was very tempting, while her family was suffering, to “check out” and become bitter.
“Yeah, I thought of it,” she said, “but that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the people who need help. I felt that if I stopped doing what I’d been doing, it wouldn’t be right. If you can help someone who needs help, you should.”