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Beaverton students make a child's 'Wish' come true

TIMES PHOTO BY ADAM WICKHAM - Zinnia opens presents gifted by students at Beaverton High School.

Beaverton High School marketing students made Christmas come early for a 6-year-old girl battling brain cancer.

When Zinnia Thompson walked into Katie Robinson’s marketing class wearing a floppy Santa hat and a pink polka-dot fleece under her Make-A-Wish T-shirt, she was welcomed with cheers, posters, cupcakes and gifts.

But for Zinnia, the highlight of her visit was perhaps the opportunity to do one of her favorite things: collect letters. Zinnia and her 4-year-old sister Ruby walked around the classroom with cardboard boxes, collecting handwritten letters from visibly emotional students.

She visited the classroom to collect letters for herself and letters for Santa, which she later delivered to the red mailbox inside Macy’s Washington Square. Getting to open and deliver letters was one of her wishes, in addition to her upcoming, all-expenses-paid family trip to London this summer, where she’ll meet her favorite television character, Peppa Pig.

Earlier this month, students in three classes that Robinson teaches wrote letters for Zinnia to collect. Many students wrote messages letting Zinnia know they’re cheering her on beyond her classroom visit.

While it’s the first time this year Robinson was asked by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to involve her class in an interactive wish-granting activity, she and Beaverton students have worked closely with the organization for more than a decade.

For 12 years in a row, Beaverton High School has raised money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation with its annual Jam the Dam basketball game and Week of Wishes in February. In all, they’ve raised $185,000 for the organization.

Robinson started the tradition with her sports marketing class and has stayed at the helm ever since, supervising the juniors and seniors who organize the event each year. She hopes to instill her students with a sense of societal responsibility.

“It’s the greater good,” said Robinson. “Whether it’s in business or marketing, or whether it’s just as a human being, you have this incredible gift to make life beautiful. In encouraging these kinds of intentional acts of kindness, hopefully it’s random the next time.”

Zinnia’s love for letters began in the hospital room, where each message of support, each chance to open an envelope was a “happy distraction” during a traumatic time, said Thompson.

“Zinnia has gone through 15 months of cancer treatment and … how many pokes?” asked Thompson.

“A million pokes,” answered Zinnia.

To senior Cole Johanson, opening gifts with Zinnia felt like a full circle moment. When he was in fourth grade, Johanson was diagnosed with cancer.

“I can definitely relate to Zinnia, going through a life-threatening illness as a kid,” said Johanson, who is in remission. “It’s exciting for me to help grant her wish, because I know how exciting it was to get my wish granted.”

As a Make-A-Wish recipient himself, Johanson met his favorite NBA basketball player, Chris Paul. He says moments like those helped him find strength during tough times.

Johanson understands the power of a letter to make a difference.

“It means a lot,” he said. “When I was sick, I got so many letters from friends and family. That support was really important for me.”

For each letter, Macy’s donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“One thing that’s really important with this generation specifically is they’re incredibly generous and compassionate and they feel really deeply, but the sometimes the activism piece is missing, a little bit,” said Robinson. “To have them writing this letter, hopefully it’s motivation to act on that, to go volunteer somewhere, to go out and make a difference.”

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Beaverton senior, Cole Johanson, a former Make A Wish recipient who battled cancer as a child, gives Zinnia a gift.