Students Chip In For Classmate's New Wheelchair

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The student council members at Julia Randall Elementary School wanted to help somebody, somewhere. They just didn't know who.

They discussed a number of worthy possibilities. Some students thought they should raise money for the victims of Sept. 11. Others suggested raising money for the people of Afghanistan.

But the more they talked, the more the students liked the idea of helping someone closer to home. Perhaps someone they knew. Someone in need.

That's when student Sean Carroll came up with the answer.

"I saw a commercial for an electric wheelchair on TV, and I thought that Dustin Stroud needed one of those," Sean said. "He has so much trouble getting up hills in his manual wheelchair and sometimes there's no one to help him."

Sean's idea was unanimously approved by the student council and soon, all of them went to work to raise the $3,000 necessary to buy an electric wheelchair for JRE fifth-grader Dustin Stroud, a victim of cerebral palsy.

"When they were trying to figure out how to go about raising the money, at first the students came up with ideas like selling chocolate, selling Christmas wrap, and a variety of other things," said JRE fifth-grade teacher Alan Ammann. "But then they decided on their own to make money the old-fashioned way: to go out and work for it."

The students laid the groundwork for their fund-raising project with a letter written to parents by members of the student council.

"(Cerebral palsy) is a disease with a poor outlook," the letter reads. "Dustin will be confined to a wheelchair, possibly for life. His muscles weaken over time, making it harder for him to push his wheels by hand.

"We can't do much to help with his disease, but we can do something for him that will make us feel good and help him at the same time ... When he goes off to middle school next year, we will be proud to see him there, and about town, in a wheelchair that we helped provide."

Each student who took that note home agreed to do additional work at home, above and beyond their regular chores, to earn money for the wheelchair.

According to Ammann, the students have already committed themselves to enough hours to raise about $1,200, and of that, about $200 has already been collected. They'll be looking for more work and donations to raise the rest of the money.

"We keep the money coordinated on a day-to-day basis with each teacher. But these guys," said Ammann, gesturing toward the student council members, "did it all. It was Sean's original idea to raise money for Dustin's wheelchair, but everyone else took it by the horns."

That was almost three weeks ago and the students' enthusiasm has yet to dim.

"I think it's a great idea," said JRE student body president Beth Hoyt. "It's good that Dustin will be able to have the freedom to move around like the rest of us. We'll get cars when we turn 16, and he'll get a wheelchair. He'll be able to go all over, just like we do, and not have to push himself so much. His muscles can't do that so well anymore."

"It means a lot to me, just to be helping another student," Nicole Goebel said.

"It's really good that Dustin is getting an electric wheelchair," Andrew Staszak added, "so his friends Michael Weathersby and Jeff Sexton won't have to push him around (in his manual wheelchair) anymore."

"I really like the fact that we're helping out a student at our school," Ashley Cummings said. "I think next year we'll be proud every time we see Dustin in his wheelchair."

Until that time, Hoyt said she'll remain very proud of her student councilmembers. "They always have good ideas, they always come to the meetings, and they're doing such a good job," she said.

Hoyt has pledged to raise $30 for the cause.

"I'm going to be washing the dog and doing housework and yardwork. I'll get $4 an hour, which is about how long it takes to wash my dog, because she's pretty hairy. But it will be worth it the moment we give Dustin his new electric wheelchair."

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