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Paying it forward

by: Sam Bennett, Mindy Mayer, owner of McDonalds’ on Hwy. 43 in West Linn, lost three generations of her family in a plane crash last summer. She recently held a fund-raising event at the restaurant to help a 3-year-old battling cancer.

McDonald's restaurants are known for their Happy Meals. And on March 11, the McDonald's branch on Hwy. 43 in West Linn was packed with smiling kids and teachers from Rosemont Ridge Middle School, along with community members.

Mindy Mayer, the restaurant's owner, hosted the two-hour dinner event, literally a happy meal, and donated 50 percent of the proceeds to a 3-year-old girl battling Ewing's Sarcoma.

It was just last August that Mayer was the only survivor from her family in an Alaskan plane crash that killed her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two twin grandchildren. As the plane was in flames, Mayer managed to save her 3-year-old granddaughter, Allison, who later died after 51 days in the hospital.

After months of recovery, Mayer was struck by the gesture made by Rosemont Ridge's Sparrow Club when it adopted Kiersa Jacobs, a bubbly and smiley child from Clackamas who had cancer cells found in the bone of her lower vertebra near her pelvis. Mayer's McDonald's event proved that paying kindness forward can be helpful - and painful.

'(Kiersa) was so sweet. But, I had a very difficult time when I walked in that store and saw her,' Mayer said.

Mayer could not believe the resemblance between Kiersa and her granddaughter, Allison. Her last memories of Allison, also a 3-year-old at the time, are of her with little hair and hospital tubes snaking around her to keep her alive.

'And she had a voice just like her,' Mayer said. 'It was difficult, but I was so happy to do this for this little girl - she's just a trooper.'

Nationwide, Sparrow Clubs encourage children to help other children in need, who are referred to as 'sparrows.' Kiersa is Rosemont's first 'sparrow.'

'I particularly like the idea of children helping children and giving back to the community,' Mayer said. 'Children need to learn that. Even some adults need to learn that.'

At McDonald's, teachers and children served food - under supervision - and tended to the cash registers and donation jars. McDonald's food sales raised $1,243.74 for the Jacobs family. Ronald McDonald even made an appearance. With additional donations, close to $2,000 was raised that night, said Rosemont Ridge parent Julie Edwards who helped coordinate Rosemont's first 'sparrow.' Safeway in West Linn also made a donation of $5,000 upon hearing of Rosemont's 'sparrow.'

'Kids can learn that cancer is not contagious and that kids their age need to show empathy for others in medical need,' Edwards said. 'I've witnessed a win-win.'

Nick Nystrom, the Portland regional assistant director for Sparrow Clubs USA, said that the club allows children to think beyond themselves and their own needs.

'Youth culture today encourages kids to focus all on themselves and as a consequence many kids are hurting, confused and hopeless,' Nystrom said. 'Sparrow Clubs give them an opportunity to be a hero, taking the focus off themselves and on to someone else who needs it. And when they do that, they change.'

Mayer said the fund-raiser at McDonalds proved that in life no one knows what's going to happen - or whose going to come to aid when needed. But looking over and seeing kids and teachers tending to the French fries, ice cream cones and drive-through orders was comforting for the Jacobs and Mayer.

'Kids need to understand that circumstances can happen to a family that are totally unforeseen, for example what happened to me,' Mayer said. 'Kids need to learn how to help each other. You go through life as a child thinking life is always good. We have to be a community and work together. You don't know when you might need a helping hand.'

Mayer, who resides in Oregon City, owned the McDonalds with her son and is now the owner after he died in the crash along with three other generations of their family.

'McDonald's philosophy is that we give back to the communities that we take care of and that have been good to us,' Mayer said.

Jacobs said that she enjoys that Sparrow Clubs help children understand that there's a bigger world out there and that one person can make a difference, Nystom agreed.

'We believe that kids will do heroic things when there are heroic things to do,' Nystrom said. 'So, I love giving them opportunities to do something truly significant.'

With two chemotherapy treatments left, little Kiersa fluctuates between good days - playing and laughing - and bad days - in pain.

Mayer's McTeacher's Night, as it was called, was touching not only for the Jacobs family, but for herself.

'(The event was) especially close to my heart,' Mayer said. 'I'm just praying for that little girl.'

Jacobs said she hopes to someday make a donation to Sparrow Clubs for the kindness they have shown her family.

'I can't wait,' Jacobs said, 'until I can return the favor.'

For more information about Sparrow Clubs, visit www.sparrowclubs.org.