Sarina Cady - Photo by: Beyond Images

The Spirit of Kids Helping Kids

When Asia Cady's son, Wyatt, asked to spend time volunteering last year to help raise money for a McLoughlin Middle School teacher's sick child, the Medford mother of four remembers relating all too well to what the teacher and his family were facing.

Battling her daughter's epilepsy — and more than 100 seizures each month — the young mother felt her son's efforts were for a worthwhile cause. The students' efforts would help the teacher's family face mounting medical bills and provide for extra needs to make life easier.

A growing national organization, Sparrow Clubs USA, is a kids-helping-kids charity which pairs medically fragile children and their families with area schools and a business sponsor. Introduced to Southern Oregon five years ago, businesses provide a minimum $3,500 for students to "earn" for their sparrows and most schools initiate a host of additional fundraisers, raising as much as $30,000 per sparrow family.

By some estimates, Southern Oregon director for Sparrow Clubs, Matt Sampson, says more than 30,000 young people have been involved in Sparrow Clubs in 10 years, raising approximately $2,000,000 in aid for some 400 "sparrows." Last year alone, $525,000 was distributed to 130 families.

On a national level, Sparrow Clubs USA was founded 10 years ago in Washington state when a picked-on junior high student named Dameon offered his meager life savings to help a teacher's dying baby. In the Rogue Valley, students at Griffin Creek Elementary raised $15,000 to purchase a wheelchair for a student with muscular dystrophy. A 4-year-old suffering from a rare blood disease was adopted by students at Crater, and McLoughlin Middle School teacher Rob Poll, whose son faces a serious, undiagnosed neurological disorder, received help from the very students he taught.

"At first we were a little hesitant for Matt [his son] to be a sparrow," Poll remembers.

"I only see a fraction of kids who come to school and I wondered what the response would be, but it just turned out to be this awesome, most rewarding, pleasant experience. All the kids jumped on board whether I was their teacher or not."

From benefit concerts by student bands to car washes and even photo shoots with their beloved "sparrow," Poll says the family was able to pay for therapies and added expenses not covered by insurance to improve their son's quality of life.

In an ironic twist of fate, just as Poll's son had been helped by Cady's son, Cady's daughter Sarina will soon be adopted by students at Lone Pine Elementary, who will help the family tackle mounting medical bills and provide some much needed relief. The family's biggest hope is to afford transportation costs to make an 18-hour trek to Arizona's Mayo Clinic where a team of epileptologists are ready to delve deeper into Sarina's uncontrollable seizures.

"The Mayo Clinic has an entire team that specializes in epilepsy," Asia Cady says.

"We thought we'd be able to afford it by now and we were trying to save money to go, but then something else would happen. It's hard to be able to miss work when the trip will cost so much."

For now, simply the idea that students will reach out to her daughter, has given the family something positive to focus on, which is precisely, Sampson said, what Sparrow Clubs' "paying it forward" concept is all about.

"Sparrow Clubs really motivate kids to want to make a difference," Sampson said.

"These families are facing the fact they've got a sick child, medical bills are coming in ... Sometimes a little bit of help makes a big difference for a family going through something like this. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved."

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