Marymount Sixth Graders Raise $11,000 for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

$11,000! Raised by SIXTH GRADERS! Absolutely AMAZING! We are so honored Marymount of Santa Barbara selected the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation as their Charity of the Year. We have been so inspired by the young Marymount philanthropists and their commitment to give back. And we are so grateful for their incredible support.

Back in the fall we were contacted by Ms. Burris, the leadership teacher at Marymount of Santa Barbara. She let us know we had been nominated by one of her sixth grade students and the committee had already narrowed the list down with theGSF as one of three charities up for their adopted cause all year. Ms. Burris asked if we could come in to present to the class to help the sixth grade make their final selection. I didn’t arrive with much: a photo of Gwendolyn, our story, SMA information cards and videos of Project Mariposa recipients. I remember feeling nervous. They asked about our annual budget, our expenses and overhead, what percentage of funds raised would benefit programs, and how their fundraising would have a lasting impact on those with SMA. They had done their homework. And I left feeling so uplifted, so inspired by their passion and tenacity, so hopeful to see children excited about making a difference in this world.

To our surprise and delight the Marymount sixth grade unanimously selected the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation as their Charity of the Year! They fell in love with Gwendolyn and connected with her as a child just like them, with desires and joy in her heart, just like in theirs. It also stood out to them that we are an all volunteer organization and that 100% of the funds they raised would support our programs, not office space or salaries. They specifically chose to fund Project Mariposa to help grant life-changing iPads to those with SMA and they immediately got to work.

Their first effort was to host lemonade and cookie stands. But not just one. They blanketed Santa Barbara, finding key busy intersections, set up in front of busy shops on State Street, and even along the SB Marathon race course, armed with SMA information cards to hand out and engage passersby with their well researched facts. They also sold our NEVER GIVE UP. wristbands at the stands and throughout the school. These industrious students hosted their stands for several weekends, raising several thousand dollars. Now, that is some delicious lemonade!

Next they participated in a disability awareness day at their school and decided they wanted to experience what having SMA may be like. Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital provided equipment and support and they played wheelchair sports, tried out different therapy tools, and used SayHi! AAC, the iPad communication app we created, to experience being non-verbal in the school setting. LOVE! They all got a quick education on how hard those with SMA work and then used those lessons to talk about the cause. Way to go Marymount for fostering understanding, acceptance, and respect!

The students continued to brainstorm ideas for raising funding and awareness and soon they got their sister high school, Bishop Garcia Diego High School, involved. Bishop also sold wristbands on campus and handed out our “This is SMA” information cards. And Sophia, an 11th grader, interviewed me in the school’s newly built fancy multimedia center, creating an awareness piece about SMA and our work through theGSF.

In the spring, after months of planning, reaching out to businesses for donations and community members to participate, the wonderful little philanthropists of Marymount hosted a Chili Cook-Off to benefit theGSF. The entire school was involved: kids, faculty, parents, grandparents and 38 delicious chilis were submitted from all over the community. It was a big event! Bill was lucky enough to be one of the tasting judges and he was so blown away by all they created. It was clear they worked very hard organizing all the details. The entire event was so positive and the students were so excited and so proud of helping kids with SMA.

Throughout the year, the students worked diligently, inspiring their parents to get involved too. Many shared what their children were doing and about SMA on social media. Many got their businesses involved. One parent, Adele Hubbard, owner of the Italian Pottery Outlet, hosted several shopping days to benefit theGSF and Marymount’s fundraising efforts. (She also generously gave me the most lovely “G” and “E” necklace, a NEVER GIVE UP. bracelet and dish. Very thoughtful and I wear the jewelry constantly.) And, almost every parent purchased our NEVER GIVE UP. merchandise as gifts for their children and their dedication to the cause. The kids proudly wore their NEVER GIVE UP. all year long.

And, it was Marymount students who put the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation in I Madonnari, the three day Italian Street Painting Festival held at the historic Santa Barbara Mission. People come from all over to attend the festival. Without us even knowing, Quinn, Riley & Zoe sponsored a square and took to chalking their design dedicated to helping the SMA cause, including print outs about SMA and theGSF at the bottom of their design so visitors could learn more.

Ms. Burris and Mr. Pearson, the sixth grade leadership teachers, mentored the students, fostering their compassion and desire to make a meaningful difference. But, they allowed the students to select the charity of their choice, build their own nonprofit plan, and implement their fundraising ideas, while encouraging them each step of the way. When we last heard they had raised over $5,000 and had reached countless new people through their efforts. Bill and I were blown away and so inspired by their passion.

All year long the children really wanted to meet Gwendolyn. We told her about all of their efforts to support Project Mariposa and she expressed interest in meeting the kids too. We knew there would be a time but we never want Gwendolyn to feel she is on display as she really doesn’t like talking about SMA at this point in her life. Through our own interactions with the kids, it was clear their love of Gwendolyn stemmed from respect and admiration. So, this week as the final culmination we brought Gwendolyn to meet and thank Marymount. She was just as excited as they were. When we walked in they all eagerly sat up in the desks, shared a video of the year (WATCH VIDEO HERE), and told her about what they have done. And then they shocked us with the announcement and the official check presentation.

These remarkable children not only worked diligently to raise money for Project Mariposa, they also creatively thought of another way they could increase their funds. They wrote a grant! They spent weeks working on the application and letter with a request to match their funds. And they succeeded!!! Because of Marymount, the Mammel Foundation matched dollar for dollar all that they raised, bringing the grand total to $11,000! That is 22 more iPads! 22 more lives changed! INCREDIBLE.

Before we left Gwendolyn shook every student’s hand, gave them a little gift, and told them “thank you” with her eyes and sounds and with Say Hi! AAC. She was very proud to interact with these kids and they were wonderful with her. I, of course, cried. Children helping children is truly one of the best things in the world.

Thank you Marymount sixth graders for selecting the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation as your cause this year. Thank you for believing in what we do, embracing the SMA cause with such compassion, thoughtfulness, and dedication, and helping to open the world for those with SMA. Thank you Ms. Burris and Mr. Pearson for instilling selflessness and teaching the next generation that indeed THEY CAN change the world. Thank you Marymount of Santa Barbara and all the families of these sixth graders for getting behind all of their efforts. We hope you are all proud of what has been accomplished this year. We certainly are! 

Marymount’s funds have already been put to work making a difference. Here are their first three grants:

{Project Mariposa} Grant #221: Videl Hinke, Wisconsin :: “My sister took her own life two years ago and my parents and I became legal guardians of her daughter, Videl. Videl is so smart and she loves bugs and reptiles. Videl is limited on what she can do physically, but when she is on the iPad she can zip through so much. She loves google and she takes in so much information and knows so much she amazes me. Videl has SMA Type 2 but the respiratory weakness of a Type 1. She attends school through Skype because of the germs and needing three breathing treatments daily to stay healthy. We tried having her attend in the past but she always became too ill. We had an iPad that she used to use to Skype school but it no longer works and we can’t afford a new one. When I saw Project Mariposa I thought, “Wow, God has answered our prayers.” Her iPad was always a huge outlet for her, allowing her something she can do on her own with little help from her nurses or us. Videl also loved to take pics with the iPad and use it on our 3 hour rides to doctor’s appointments in Madison. Videl would like to b a Veterinarian someday. She loves animals and is always concerned about everyone else’s feelings. Videl is our hope and our inspiration to keep going. It has definitely been a roller coaster for all of us and we just keep taking it one day at a time. This iPad will really brighten her life.”

{Project Mariposa} Grant #219: Tambryn Campbell, Texas :: “Tambryn was diagnosed with SMA Type 1 at 12 days of age. Although she was not showing any symptoms at this time, our baby girl shared the same diagnosis as our little boy who passed away 15 months prior. Her twin sister is SMA free. Being our second child with an SMA diagnosis, we already knew what we were up against. Thankfully she was able to participate in a drug trial which has benefited her in many ways. But, as Tambryn gets older she continues to lose strength. She is no longer able to move against gravity and is having a harder time with head control. Tambryn is almost 10 and loves to play games, read books, and watch videos on the iPad. iPad time was her preferred activity and she used it regularly at school. It allowed her the ability to be independent. An iPad also gave us the freedom to be entertained (and to keep germs away) when we visit the doctor and during hospitalizations. We were gifted an iPad 4 years ago and it has been a blessing to Tambryn in many ways. Unfortunately, it no longer works and we can not find the funds to purchase her a new one. I am blessed to be able to stay home to care for her, but that also means there is not much left over.”

{Project Mariposa} Grant #216: Trinity Guthrie, Missouri :: “Trinity is 9-months-old and was diagnosed with SMA Type 1 at 5-months after she coded. She was in the PICU at Children’s Mercy Hospital and while there she used an iPad. It was wonderful to see her be able to create cause and effect. She loves looking at pictures and videos on my phone but it is too small for her to really use herself. She is such a smart girl and I think having an iPad will help her grow mentally. She is already communicating to us with her eyes and her eyebrows and we hope with an iPad she could communicate even more. She needs something bigger but we cannot afford it because after her diagnosis my husband has stayed home from overseas and we lost his income. Every day is precious with our little beauty. Trinity is an amazing little girl. Her smile lights up the room and anyone that comes in contact with her falls in love with her. I hate that she has SMA but she always smiles no matter what is going on. She is an inspiration to me and though SMA is very hard, life could be so much worse. She has made me understand what love truly is. I love her so, so much.”

Thank you Marymount. Thank you for being the GOOD in the world!