By Teresa Ristow
Chloe Staten was 10 years old and suffering from a rare form of childhood cancer when she was sponsored by Phoenix High School students as part of the Southern Oregon Sparrow Clubs.
The Sparrow program matched Chloe with a business sponsor, and Phoenix students performed community service and held fundraisers to earn money for Chloe’s medical expenses.
“It was amazing for me to come to school and look out in the crowd and see how many people were crying and who cared,” said Chloe, now 14, remembering her visits to Phoenix High in 2008.
“Some people don’t understand what these kids are going through,” said Chloe.
Through the program, which included students earning money from a business sponsor through volunteer work, students were able to raise nearly $9,000 for Chloe’s family during the 2008-09 school year.
Now a freshman at Phoenix, Chloe is helping to bring back the Sparrow program, which ended at the school after Chloe was a sparrow.
About 25 students have signed up to join the campus club, according to teacher and club advisor Ellen Carvalho.
“It was amazing to see how many kids wanted to show up and help,” said Chloe, who is the club president.
The school plans to formally adopt its sparrow, 4-year-old Antonio Prince, sometime in November, according to Carvalho.
Antonio suffers from a degenerative neurological disease, but his exact medical condition is unknown, according to his mother, Angela Whitman.
Whitman said she first noticed developmental problems with her son when he was about 3 months old. By age 1, Antonio was continually arching his back and wasn’t able to roll over.
Though his condition has been helped by physical and occupational therapy, his health has still worsened. He spends most of the day in a wheelchair, is fed through a tube and is barely able to roll over on his own.
Doctors believe Antonio has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, but they don’t know all the causes of his deteriorating health.
“We don’t even have a diagnosis,” said Whitman, a single mother whose full-time job has become taking care of Antonio, paying their rent from social security payments, and spending what is left on frequent trips to Eugene and Portland for medical care.
“It’s just he and I,” said Whitman. “And he requires constant care.”
New Sparrow Club member Omar Ramirez said he understands the hardship a family has when a child is in constant need of medical care — his younger brother suffers from hypoplasia and has an underdeveloped heart.
Three years ago, Ramirez’ brother was a sparrow at North Medford High School.
“Now I can give back for what my family was given,” said Ramirez, 17, who said his brother’s health has since improved.
Students from the Phoenix Sparrow Club said they hope to meet Antonio soon and introduce him to the school at an assembly in November.
Antonio will be sponsored by Central Equipment Co. of Medford, the same company that sponsored Chloe when students worked to earn money for her family.
Whitman said she hopes to use the money to hire a private physical therapist for Antonio, as her insurance covers only 12 one-hour sessions of physical therapy each year.
Students at Phoenix have planned a sucker sale and a screaming contest this week to raise money for Antonio, and they held a “cash dash” during a recent football game that raised $90.
Ramirez and senior Osmaida Balbuena are fundraising for Antonio as part of their senior project.
“It’s nice seeing students helping out,” said Ramirez. “It shows that is doesn’t matter our age; we can all come together for the kids.”
Despite Antonio’s severe medical condition and inability to speak, Whitman said her son’s attitude is positive and his social skills strong.
“He’s a very social person,” said Whitman, who thinks he will love the planned assembly at Phoenix High School.
“I think he’s going to have a heyday,” said Whitman. “He will be absolutely thrilled by it.”
Though he can’t talk, Antonio is able to laugh and clap, Whitman said.
“He’s so personable, he just sucks you in,” said Whitman. “I want to share him with everyone.”
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.