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'Sparrow' Paisley meets her fans

Cancer patient, 3, enters FGHS gym wearing a tiara, winning students' hearts


Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Holding the hand of her mom, Chelsea Million, three-year-old Paisley Million rushes out to meet the Forest Grove High School student body at last weeks Sparrow Club fundraising assembly.Forest Grove High School students are giving back to the community in an effort to help 3-year-old cancer survivor Paisley Million stay healthy and cancer-free.

Proudly sporting a sparkly tiara, Paisley’s excitement grew as hundreds of students filtered into the gym on Thursday for an assembly in her honor. A large sign at one end of the gym read, “Welcome to FGHS, Paisley” and a gathering of students wearing matching Sparrow Club T-shirts bustled about making preparations.

When she was four months old, doctors found a tumor on Paisley’s liver — a condition that required surgery as well as eight blood transfusions.

Shortly thereafter doctors discovered that not only was the tumor cancerous, but little Paisley carried a genetic mutation that promotes cancer growth. This past July doctors found another tumor in Paisley’s brain, which they removed in August. She has a full body MRI every three months to search for new growths, and her family faces a lifetime of medical expenses members of the local Sparrow Club hopes to at least partially alleviate.

The club’s vice president, Hugo Salmeron, has been dedicated to the cause for the past two years. “It was last year that we started the club again,” Salmeron said. “It was something we just went for and it was really successful so we are doing it again.”

As the lights dimmed in the gym, students were introduced to Sparrow Clubs’ Oregon Director Matt Sampson.

“Sparrow Clubs is not an organization that focuses on money, and the reason is we don’t want anyone to ever feel like it requires money to make a difference in somebody’s life,” Sampson said to the crowd. “How our program works is we connect with businesses, organizations and individuals within your community that believe in the mission of Sparrow Clubs and believe in your ability and your desire to make a difference in kids’ lives.” Members of Forest Grove High's Sparrow Club collect donations at the end of a Jan. 15 assembly. Donations to Sparrow Clubs USA help defray medical costs for families with members facing life-threatening health conditions.

Those businesses donate money that must be earned by the students through community service and donated to a family in need. This year the club is sponsored by Mission: Salt and Light, a Portland group dedicated to giving back to the community.

Students earn $10 for every hour of community service performed and report their efforts to the club using vouchers.

“Sparrow Clubs and Mission: Salt and Light are challenging all of you as a school to give 256 hours of community service,” Sampson said to the students. “Every single one of you is capable of making the choice to serve somebody.”

Sparrow Clubs USA was founded in 1995. Its creation was inspired by the actions of a seventh-grade boy from southern Washington named Dameon Sharkey. Upon hearing that his teacher, Jeff Leeland, was unable to pay $200,000 for the bone marrow transplant required to save his 9-month-old son Michael from leukemia, Sharkey donated his life savings of $60 to the family.

Sharkey’s actions started a chain reaction, and soon more students joined the movement — spurring on community support and in turn saving Michael Leeland’s life and inspiring the charity’s beginnings. The Sparrow Club at Forest Grove High is modeled after the actions taken by Dameon Sharkey and others.

Now an adult, Michael Leeland works for the charity and spoke at the FGHS assembly about his experiences. “You have the power to make a difference in this life; it only takes one person to make a difference,” Leeland said. “It doesn’t have to be money. It can be time or it can be skills.”

Paisley Million is mobbed by a group of adoring Forest Grove High School students. As the assembly came to a close, club members rushed around collecting money from students. “Everybody in the club is completely dedicated,” Salmeron said. “It’s not like any other club in the school.

“Being in a club where you are able to help someone else and really make an impact on someone’s life makes it a different kind of club.”

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