About 200 kindergartners and first-graders sat on the gym floor and listened to a story that connected some disparate threads: a cat, the holidays and combating eye disease.
The students at Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston assembled recently to hear Samuel Polakoff read a story told from a cat's point of view about two families who come together in the spirit of Christmas.
"I had the idea for a children's story, and I wanted to do more to raise money for glaucoma," the author said after the assembly. "A children's book seemed ideal."
Polakoff, a 45-year-old Forest Hill resident, wrote the 24-page children's book A Christmas Tale to raise money for glaucoma research.
The idea originated from a memo Polakoff sent to his employees at TBB Global Logistics, a company in New Freedom, Pa., that manages logistics for freight systems. Polakoff is the owner of the third-generation firm.
Every morning for years, Polakoff has sent an e-mail containing a poem or story to employees, he said. Last Christmas he wrote a story, and a friend suggested that it might make a good children's book. The wheels were set in motion to publish the book.
Before writing the story in 2006, Polakoff and his wife started the Samuel R. and Denise F. Polakoff Foundation to raise money for glaucoma research.
Polakoff knows firsthand about the dangers of glaucoma. At age 38, he showed early signs of the disease and underwent treatment.
"Glaucoma is a silent thief" he said. "It can steal your eyesight if it isn't caught early. I haven't lost my vision, but my symptoms were caught early."
Polakoff's support of glaucoma research began a year before he started the foundation. Each year, his employees select a charity to donate money to during the coming year, he said. In 2005 they selected the Glaucoma Research Foundation in San Francisco to be the recipient of their 2006 fundraising efforts. By the end of 2006, they had raised about $20,000, but Polakoff wanted to continue the effort.
The foundation was launched, and in 2007 volunteers raised about $50,000.
As part of his presentation to the students, Polakoff talked about glaucoma, comparing its effects to a bathroom drain.
"When it gets clogged up, it backs up and the water doesn't drain," he said. "In the back of the eye you have a little drain that gets clogged up and causes problems."
After reading the book, Polakoff invited questions from the students.
Polakoff's visit was part of the school's program to bring in authors to speak to students about writing and publishing books, said Assistant Principal Cheryl Steeg.
"It really helps the children to make a real world connection to their reading and writing," Steeg said.