by: Contributed - Four-year-old Eric Reynoso-Estrada.

General Editor
   June 18, 2003 — Kids can make a difference students in Madras Elementary's Sparrow Club learned this year when they organized projects to make a difference in the life of 4-year-old Eric Reynoso-Estrada of Madras.
   Young Eric, the son of Lucia Reynoso-Estrada and Celso Reynoso of Madras, has a type of muscular dystrophy which requires continual physical therapy.
   "If he didn't have physical therapy his muscles would tighten so much he couldn't use them," said Karen Francis, Central Oregon Sparrow Club program manager. She said Eric may grow out of the problem after a few years of on-going therapy.
   Sparrow Clubs are service groups run by kids to help other kids. Each club is assigned a "Sparrow" or child in medical and financial need.
   The club members get to know the child through letters, pictures, and visits. Then they come up with their own ideas for fund-raisers to help their Sparrow obtain needed medical care.
   Seed money, donated by a local sponsor, can be earned by club members at $10 per hour for work done on community service projects. One hundred percent of the money earned and donated goes to the club's Sparrow. Bright Wood Corporation provided $2,500 in seed money for the Madras Elementary club.
   One hundred students from a variety of grades made up the club, which included Billie Jo White's second graders, Sharon Martin's third-graders, Betty Jean Cordill's fourth-graders, and Sue Taylor's fifth-graders.
   Eric, who attends Early Intervention classes at Juniper Junction, was able to visit Madras Elementary twice with his parents to meet the club members in person.
   During the year the students learned about Eric's disability, plus that he came from a very loving home, was very smart and loved cars and the Scooby Doo cartoon character.
   Second-grader Devin Ceciliani said, "When I met Eric he couldn't walk or go up stairs. I liked being in the club because we helped Eric get his strength back and be able to walk."
   The fifth-grade club members also visited his Early Intervention classroom to work as volunteers and play with the children, and they earned community service hours by doing so.
   "I met a little boy with a hearing disability," said Dalen Shaw. "He had to wear hearing aids and they taught him in sign language and I learned some of it. The best part was at the end, I had him sign that I was his friend," she said.
   Teacher Sue Taylor noted students in the club benefit as much as the Sparrow they are helping.
   "It's really good for the students to realize they have a lot to give. You can teach character development (in the classroom), but this program shows it better and teaches them compassion and empathy.
   Fifth-grader Chris McDonald said he wanted to be in the club because, "I liked that we were making someone feel good and helping Eric so he could get better."
   Sparrow Club members decided on their own fund-raisers, organized them and carried them out, with the help of teacher volunteers.
   At Christmas time, the students collected donations of small toys, games, paper, pencils, and toiletries, packed them in shoeboxes, and wrapped them as Christmas gifts.
   The club turned out over 50 shoebox gifts which were mailed off to Samaritan's Purse, an international organization that distributes them to needy kids all over the world. The students also wrote letters to include in the boxes. The hours they spent on the project helped the club earn funds from the seed money.
   On Valentines Day, club members got together to make cards and pack a bag of gifts for Eric and his family. Another benefit of the club was, with the different age ranges, the older students could help the younger students on projects.
   "I liked gathering all the toys for the shoeboxes and giving other people things they've never had. It's really important to help other people and I hope to be in the club next year," said second-grader Brianna Fessler.
   In Mrs. Cordill's room, club members baked cookies to send to her son-in-law in Kuwait, and letters and gift boxes were sent to other troops.
   The last big fund-raiser was a spaghetti feed held in Mrs. White's room, which all the kids planned and served, earning $200 above and beyond the seed money account.
   Fifth-grader Kayla Jones said, "I served spaghetti and garlic bread to teachers, parents and other kids that came."
   Devin Ceciliani noted he served food and "helped keep track of the money," while fifth-grader Cassandra Jimenez said, "I liked that I was helping a bunch of other people in addition to Eric, with the spaghetti lunch and gift boxes."
   Just before school was out, Eric, his mother and physical therapist came to the school and were presented with a check for $2,500, earned by the Sparrow Club students.
   His family said the money would be used for extra physical therapy and to make modifications to make it easier for him to get around.
   This was Madras Elementary's first year to have a Sparrow Club, and judging by the enthusiasm of its members, it won't be the last.
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