James Funaro’s small hands worked clumsily with the sleek black tie he was looping around his neck on Wednesday morning.
After a few wrong moves and redos, James pulled down on the face of the tie with one hand and pushed the knot up to the nape of his neck with the other. It was the first time the 6-year-old had managed to do it himself.
His blue eyes lit up.
“I did my own tie!” he said, jumping up and down in his bedroom.
It only took him 232 tries to learn. That’s how many consecutive days James, of Nesconset, has been wearing a necktie - a feat that started as a shot at a world record and is now a successful fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
James first donned a tie on Oct. 13 for picture day at Nesconset Elementary School, where he is in first grade, and liked the way he felt in it.
“When all the first graders are dressed up, you can’t help but smile,” said James’ teacher Patti Szabo. “James got a lot of compliments, which he enjoyed.”
He’s worn a tie every day since, including on Field Day, Pajama Day, during gym class, recess and on weekends.
Chimene Funaro, James’ mother, said her son is an outgoing boy who likes doing things “a little bit different.” She said after he decided he liked wearing ties, he thought maybe he could break a world record, so in January the family sent an email to the Guinness Book of World Records.
They got a quick response, she said, which suggested anyone trying to break a record pair their undertaking with a fundraiser. James chose the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization he was familiar with after his cousin, who had leukemia but is now cancer-free, received a wish last year. A preschool classmate also received a wish.
Eventually, James found out that it would be too difficult for the Guinness organization to account for his tie-wearing, but James forged ahead, hoping to raise enough money to grant one wish, about $6,000.
To date, he has raised $4,100 from posting flyers around his community and spreading awareness about the cause. He even received a check from someone in Texas.
James was also asked to attend the annual Make-A-Wish Foundation Gala last month, where he spoke to a crowd of 700 about his project.
But James is comfortable in the spotlight and said he wasn’t nervous at all.
“Not even a tiny, itty bit,” he said.
The crowd was so impressed with James’ fundraiser, that a former CEO of the corporation stood up after James speech, took off his own tie and gave it to James. Thirty-three other men in the room did the same.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation also presented James with seven ties embroidered with their logo, which James said are among his favorites of the 112 he owns.
Szabo said James is a role model to her class. She said even in a tie, he goes about his day like a normal first grader, only calling attention to his cause when he has someone to thank. She said James writes a personalized thank-you card to every person who donates money, which has included many teachers in the school and even some of his classmates.
“Especially in the first grade, we talk a lot about kindness and caring for others,” she said. “We tell them it can be as simple as a smile or inviting someone to play. James has just taken that to a whole other level.”
James said he’ll keep on wearing ties until he reaches $6,000 without exception, he’s planning to wear one every day this summer and maybe even in the pool. “I have a duct tape tie for that,” he said.