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Students use bands to help African orphans

A teen at Camarillo High School went without a coffee at Starbucks so that she could donate $5 to her school’s Help Educate At-Risk Orphans club.With that java money, one African child will be fed three meals a day for 30 days, said Rita Neumeister, an English teacher and HERO club organizer.

Another girl donated money that she had received for her bat mitzvah. Many others bought burritos and T-shirts sold by HERO members to raise money for and awareness of the United Nations Association of the United States of America campaign, which assists orphans who lost parents to HIV/AIDS.

This is the first year that Camarillo High students have been involved in helping the African orphans. They began their mission by sending pencils engraved with the high school’s name. When photos came back with the children smiling and holding the pencils, the Camarillo students’ hearts opened even wider.

Next, the teens made rubber bracelets with the word HERO stamped on them. They sold 1,500 of the bracelets, raising $1,500 for UNA-USA. Again, realizing the difference that they made generated more enthusiasm.

“The money fed 350 kids three meals a day for two years and provided a medical person to visit them once a week,” Neumeister said.

After their efforts to help the orphans, the students learned that the organization U.S. Agency for International Development made a large donation to UNA-USA, with $19,400 of it earmarked with the HERO club’s name to show appreciation for what the Camarillo students were doing, Neumeister said.

“At first, we felt we’d bit off a lot more than we could chew, but that donation brought us up to another level,” Neumeister said.

“I was so impressed with this school,” said Susan Fox, HERO program manager for UNA-USA. “They are our first high school to get involved in HERO and have been our shining star, a successful model for other schools throughout the country.”

Fox contacted the school and asked if the students would be willing to focus on Namibia, where $2,000 would buy school supplies for 7,000 children for one year.

The HERO club got right to work, planning a Books for Burritos event where members sold burritos and T-shirts and collected books to create a library in Africa.

They sent about $2,100 to Namibia for school supplies, and more than 1,600 books with notes from each student describing why the books were special to them. Neumeister said the one-of-a-kind library includes the Box Car series, Dr. Seuss books, “The Giving Tree” and other titles that the Namibian children would not otherwise have had a chance to read.

“The school they are sponsoring in Namibia is really made of sticks and ropes. Their help is going to make a huge difference,” Fox said.

“I donated a book called ‘Dealing with Dragons’ because I like fantasy,” said Catherine Billings, 15. “Now that I know how such a little thing for me does so much for others, I think twice about spending money on myself.”

To increase students’ awareness of others around the world, Neumeister wants to lead a group trip to Africa. And other high schools and junior highs throughout the county have shown an interest in bringing the program to their schools, Neumeister said.

Passing on that awareness to other students is one of Neumeister’s goals for next year, along with having Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie come to the school to tell the students about Namibia, where the celebrity couple’s baby was born this month.

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Teachers use bands to promote wellness

Fourth-graders walking through a Shreveport neighborhood are a sign of a new trend in physical education.

Prompted by increasing concerns about childhood obesity, as well as a federal requirement that school systems promote health and nutrition, Caddo school officials are creating a wellness policy.Board members are expected to approve the policy without comment after a public hearing June 27. The proposed policy consolidates parts of a lunch program and physical education guidelines and adds goals for teaching health and promoting nutritious eating habits.

Elementary-age students typically attend PE once a week. Teachers are finding other ways to work exercise into the day to meet a requirement that children have at least 150 minutes per week of physical activity, said Karen Eason, principal at Shreve Island Elementary in Shreveport.

On Friday, Shreve Island students pelted each other with foam balls in a dodge ball pit, ran a race over miniature hurdles and jumped rope during the school’s Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser.

“A lot of teachers are incorporating activity with math and reading,” Eason said. “Last week fourth-graders walked around the neighborhood taking pictures, then came up with LEAP-like problems based on the pictures.”

Shreve Island’s PTA plans to put a walking track around the school playground by this fall.

“A lot of schools have running clubs. We’re thinking about that,” Eason said.

Walking, running and physical activity tied to lessons represent the new face of physical education, said Kaye Cochran, president-elect of the Louisiana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Cochran, who just retired after teaching PE in Caddo Parish schools for 33 years, is working with the district’s physical education directors to pilot middle and high school programs that focus more on lifelong activity and fitness than team sports.

Tuesday, she and others with the state PE association handed out rubber wristbands bearing the exhortation, “No Child Left on Their Behinds!” to state legislators.

“I want people to bring fun and enthusiasm to PE,” Cochran said. “PE can be a dumping ground. I want to rise above that.”

Check out additional school wristbands.

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Bands encourange tissue/organ donation

About three weeks ago, 16-year-old Natalie Derstine of Chatham suffered congestive heart failure and was put on an organ-donor list.On Thursday, Natalie, who got a new heart May 17 at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, was the guest of honor at a welcome-home party at Chatham Baptist Church.

Friends from Auburn and Glenwood high schools helped organize the party. Decorations, in Natalie’s favorite colors of purple and white, included centerpieces of stylish purses filled with flowers.Family, friends and teachers agreed that Natalie – smiling, giving hugs, going from guest to guest and nibbling on a chocolate chip cookie – didn’t look like someone who’d just had a heart transplant.

Maybe it has something to do with her attitude. Both before and after the operation, Natalie maintained a positive outlook, said her mother, Susan.

Asked what contributes to such an outlook, Natalie said, “I guess it’s my personality, family and faith in God.”

Natalie, who’ll be a junior this fall at Glenwood, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which involves a dilated heart.

She now takes an array of medication, including drugs to prevent her body from rejecting the new heart, and has regular doctor visits.

Students and staff at Glenwood recently raised more than $10,000 to help offset her medical expenses and travel between here and St. Louis. Also, a benefit fund has been established at United Community Bank.

Thursday’s party had a dual purpose – educating people on how to become an organ donor.

Brochures about organ and tissue donation were available. So were green rubber bracelets from the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office saying: “Be an organ/tissue donor” and listing the Web site

Prior to Natalie’s transplant, members of the Derstine family signed up to be organ donors, Susan said.

The Derstines know little about whose heart Natalie received, other than that it came from an 18-year-old boy from Illinois.

Susan said the family has been moved, not only by the decision of the young man’s loved ones to donate his heart, but other acts of generosity and thoughtfulness in the days preceding and following Natalie’s transplant.

Natalie, who is interested in fashion design, recently received a letter and book from designer Ralph Lauren. That evolved through communication between a doctor who was a member of Natalie’s transplant team and one of his friends, a nephew of Lauren.

Lauren wrote, in part, that he knew Natalie had been through “quite an ordeal” and encouraged her to develop her passion for design.

The book, written by Lauren, includes photos and explanations of how his designs have been developed and produced.

Natalie’s doctors are encouraging her to pursue her dreams and to follow as normal a lifestyle as possible, her mother said. They also are helping her and her family understand that a heart transplant “is not the end of the world,” Susan said.

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Students sell bands to "Support Our Troops"

Every year, students collect soda can “flip tops” for the benefit of the Ronald McDonald house in Boston. Every fall, the school organizes a food drive to supply Father Sweeney’s Food Pantry at St. Mary’s Parish in Plymouth. And, each year the school chooses one cause to support in a unique, school-wide service project. This year, the project chosen by the Sacred Heart Elementary School student body, “Project We Care,” was to benefit the men and women serving in Iraq.

Students in grades one through six put the finishing touches on Project We Care this week. Assembly lines of student-helpers filled goodie-bags with personal care products and special treats. School staff and parent volunteers shipped the goodies to American soldiers serving in Iraq and Kuwait.

The goal of the project, which ran from Advent through Lent, was to provide small comforts for soldiers away from home. Items included disposable razors, lip balm, eye drops, shampoo, Gold Bond foot powder, playing cards, Nerf footballs, fruit roll-ups, gum, packets of cocoa mix, Pop Tarts, and much more. Many of the items are not “standard government issue” or if they are, they run out quickly.

Students and parent volunteers solicited some items from manufacturers, and a number of fund-raisers provided money to purchase other items. Some funds came from the Student Council sale of “Support Our Troops” silicone bracelets. Some came from the proceeds of a “Bread & Broth” fast day. (During Lent, students donated $1 to Project We Care and went without their traditional lunch of sandwich, fruit and snacks. Instead, they ate only soup and a roll.) Some funds came from the sale of Mardi Gras beads and masks, which students were allowed to wear on a festive “no uniform day” on the eve of Lent. Also, each classroom was home to a piggy bank that collected dollars and cents that students earned doing extra chores at home.

In addition to providing much needed items for the soldiers, Project We Care provided Sacred Heart students many opportunities to reflect on the life of a soldier and to share of themselves. Each student sent a personal greeting at Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. The “Support Our Troops” bracelets, in addition to being a successful fundraiser, served as a reminder to pray for soldiers far away from home. On Bread & Broth day, students had an opportunity to understand how little many people in the world eat every day. And by giving up their small change and extra chore money, students learned how to do without an “extra” in order to provide for a young soldier’s need.

“We strive to provide experiences to our students that will enable them to lead and to interact with others in actively shaping the future of the Church and the global community,” said principal Sister Ann Therese. “Also, service to others teaches an understanding of, and concern for, those in our community who need our support.”

Earlier this year, the school sent 400 new t-shirts printed with the “We Care” logo to the soldiers in a transportation unit led by Col. Walter Juzukonis. Donnelly School Apparel (the Sacred Heart uniform supplier) donated the shirts, and Sacred Heart parent Ruth Finn, owner of Special Tees in Plymouth, donated the screen printing. Students have also been sending letters to the soldiers as individuals and as classes, via mail and email.

About 40 students are regular penpals with soldiers in Col. Juzukonis’ group. The soldiers write about what they are doing in Iraq and Kuwait and about the families and pets they miss at home. “Thank you for thinking of us and taking the time to write,” wrote one soldier. “I am proud to protect America and help to keep you safe.”

In April, Colonel Juzukonis’ soldiers sent the students a gift of surplus Army hats, and a trophy from Sgt. Jose Monzon that read “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The soldiers also sent a number of questions for the students. They wanted to know how Project We Care came about, and what the students are learning from it. Sgt. Crystal Rothermel wanted to know what impact corresponding with and sending gifts to the soldiers had on the students.

Community service is an integral part of the Sacred Heart experience. Last year, the school raised enough money for Heifer International to provide two arks of livestock and other agricultural aid to Indonesian tsunami victims. The previous year, the school-wide service project benefited Operation Smile, an organization that provides doctors and medical supplies to repair cleft palate and other facial deformities.

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Family uses bands for cancer fundraiser

In a town as small as Ripon, everyone knows your name — or at least they know someone who knows your name.

For Krystan Souza, this is a very good thing.

The 16-year-old Ripon High School student who will begin her senior year in the fall, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia two weeks ago. The onset of the cancer was sudden and furious, and Krystan is now undergoing treatment in Santa Clara at a Kaiser Permanente pediatric oncology ward.

The Ripon community has rallied together support for the Souza family with a blood drive, fundraisers, and countless prayers.

Hundreds of people from Ripon and the surrounding communities came to Ripon High School Monday to donate blood to Krystan through a Delta Blood Bank blood drive, organized by Ripon Chamber leaders, Helen Lopez and Dorothy Booth.

The donors came from all walks of life and were each touched in some way by the Souza family.

Renee Ohland, Tara Garrison, Christine Chapple, and Stephanie Sikma all came to donate because they know Krystan’s sisters, Jennifer and Rochelle. Phil Weerheim came because he takes his dog to get groomed at Krystan’s mom’s business, Debbie’s Dog Grooming. Steve Fredriks donated because Krystan’s sister once dated his nephew. There was even a kind stranger who came to donate and brought a card to the family because she heard Krystan’s story on the evening news.

Jennifer, Rochelle, Casey Jaspar, and Krystan’s best friend, Vanessa Mendoza all donated their blood and chopped off their hair to donate to Locks of Love.

“All of Ripon has been incredibly supportive – even people we didn’t think would be there, are,” said Jennifer Souza.

The Souza family began worrying about Krystan three weeks ago when she complained of pain in her knees. When the pain got worse, Krystan was taken to the emergency room where she was told that it was probably growing pains and that she should take some ibuprofen.

Krystan collapsed two days later and was rushed to Doctor’s Hospital in Manteca. Krystan’s family stayed with her through the night and went with her in the morning when she was taken by ambulance to the Kaiser hospital in Santa Clara which was better equipped to handle the severity of Krystan’s condition.

Krystan’s parents haven’t left Santa Clara since then and will be renting a house in the area, as treatments are likely to continue for at least another year. Krystan’s siblings, Jennifer, Rochelle and Kevin have been holding down the fort at home in Ripon, quitting other part time jobs to run their mom’s dog grooming business with long time employee, Casey Jaspar.

Krystan, meanwhile, has just finished 10 days of chemotherapy in which she was getting five doses each day. (In most cases, chemotherapy is administered once a week.) She has received blood transfusions every day that she has been in the hospital and desperately needs blood platelets.

Jennifer says that their main concern has been Krystan’s white blood cell count. In a normal immune system, white blood cell counts are about 10,000. Doctors generally start to worry when the count reaches 60,000, explained Jennifer. When Krystan was admitted in Santa Clara, her white blood cell count was at 170,000 and by the second day had doubled to more than 300,000.

Krystan had a stroke on Sunday night and has been running a 105.6 degree temperature. Jennifer says that hospital staff have been trying to keep Krystan’s temperature down with wet washcloths and ice cold water.

She has also developed pneumonia because she has no immune system due to the many blood transfusions. Her lungs filled with fluid and she now wears an oxygen mask at night and has tubes in her nose and throat during the day. On Monday, doctors installed a feeding tube.

Doctors are currently running tests to find out how effective the treatment has been so far, so that they can attack the disease from the best possible angle.

Jennifer describes her sister as feisty, stubborn, fun and energetic.

“She’s a girl who cares a lot about people and is up for anything,” said Jennifer. “It’s been really hard for us, because we’re a really close family. She’s the baby, we would all die for her.”

Krystan’s amazing strength and feisty nature has played a key role in her fight against cancer. Jennifer says that Krystan has been cracking jokes in the hospital and only cried once, when she saw their dad crying.

“My parents are all right. The first week was really emotional and there were a lot of break downs. Now they’re in fighting mode,” said Jennifer. 

A fund to help with ever-mounting medical costs has been set up for Krystan at the Bank of Stockton in Ripon. 

Check out Reminderband’s cancer awareness wristbands.

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Bands remind people to "Say No to Meth"

Meth has a way of hijacking a user’s personality, says Attorney General Rob McKenna. The drug is so addictive and causes so much long-term damage that it is best if young people never try it.

McKenna brought this message Wednesday to Olympic High School in his first presentation in Kitsap County. Methamphetamine has become the biggest law enforcement, social welfare and environmental problem in the state, he said, and urged students to partner with the community and look for ways to alleviate the drug use locally.

“We hope to give you information that will persuade you to never ever go near this stuff,” McKenna told the assembled students.

He listed items where the chemicals used for cooking meth are found — batteries, Drano, gasoline, etc. And cooking up the drug itself is cancer-causing.

Meth’s social welfare effects ripple through the child dependency proceedings McKenna’s office handles. There has been a 60 percent increase in foster care cases in the last 10 years, six to 10 times the growth rate of the general population, he said.

It wasn’t the statistics that made the most impression on the students.

“I knew drugs could mess you up, but I didn’t know they could put big holes in your brain just from two years’ (use),” senior Amy Rainwater said.

One of the videos McKenna showed students was an MTV story about a 22-year old ecstasy user, who gradually incurred sleeping problems and paranoia. A CAT scan her doctor ordered showed gaps in her brain in the memory and association areas. Her brain was that of a person in her 60s or 70s who had suffered multiple little strokes.

“Ecstasy is the chemical cousin of methamphetamine,” McKenna told students.

Ecstasy and meth both cause long-term damage to the brain, skin and central nervous system, all in addition to the chemicals’ cancer-causing properties.

There are more female than male users, perhaps because of meth’s weight-loss side effect, McKenna said.

Rainwater and her sister Sasha, a sophomore, had no problem believing that statistic. They said they knew a girl who started using meth three months ago and lost a lot of weight, but looked unhealthy. Now they don’t see their acquaintance at school very often.

After the first of two presentations Amy and Sasha wore “Don’t Meth Around” red rubber bracelets, which McKenna’s assistants distributed.

The sisters were most impressed with the story of Jamie Crawford of Yakima, a 21-year-old recovering meth addict.

Clean and sober for two years, Crawford served three months in a county jail, five months on house arrest and is still serving her five-year probation.

It was the prosecutor of her case who asked Crawford to share her story with various law enforcement groups. Then she started talking to students and OHS marked her fifth school visit with McKenna.

“If you can save the life of one child, it’s worth it to me,” Crawford said. “If someone had done this when I was in high school, it could have made a difference in my story.”

Her story, as she told the students, started when she was 15 and tried meth in the summer before her junior year of high school.

“Before I knew it, my class was graduating and I wasn’t there,” she said.

She barely completed her GED recently and is starting college, she added.

Crawford said when she was 18, she was at a friend’s house with other meth users and a 7-year-old boy. They all witnessed a murder and took off, jumping fences and dragging the child along with them.

She was arrested shortly afterwards.

“I had a good lawyer, so I got a slap on the wrist,” Crawford said.

Within a month, though, she was back using meth.

In a second arrest, in June 2004, Crawford was caught red-handed with 282 pieces of stolen mail and $150,000 in cash and checks.

She had a friend’s 8-month-old baby and 4-year-old child with her. The baby used to cry almost constantly and later Crawford and her friend learned that while they were getting high on meth, the baby was too. It cried during withdrawals.

She never thought becoming a meth addict would happen to her, Crawford said. Sitting through the attorney general’s presentation most students probably thought the same thing, she added.

“Hopefully you learned something from (the presentation) that will help you say no to it,” she told students.

McKenna said he hopes to come back to Kitsap to visit more schools. He has given more than 20 similar presentations throughout the state as part of the “Operation: Allied Against Meth” program McKenna launched in May 2005. A three-part strategy focuses on coordinating law enforcement efforts, working with community anti-meth action groups and educating youth.

“We’re spending a third of our time on the outreach component because it’s such an addictive drug,” McKenna said. “It’s much better for people never to try it.”