Ahfachkee Students Raise $7,553 for Ronald McDonald House Charities

By Susan Etxebarria

BIG CYPRESS — There was hardly a dry eye in the packed Ahfachkee School lunch room on Dec. 14, 2006. On this special day astonished representatives from Ronald McDonald House Charities Southwest Florida stepped forward to accept a check for $7,553.48. All the monies were raised by the students and staff of Ahfachkee.

Vice President of the Charities’ Board of Directors Neil Leclair had to choke back tears. The elated smile of Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Fike stretched from ear to ear and Executive Director Debra Newman was stunned by the children’s generosity.

The amount of money raised had been kept a secret from these distinguished representatives of the Ronald McDonald House Charities located in Ft. Myers. They arrived that day at the school for the much anticipated check presentation.

None of the three had ever been to the Big Cypress Seminole reservation and they didn’t know what to expect. They never expected the largest donation any school in Southwest Florida has ever raised.

Raising money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities was a spur of the moment inspiration of the Ahfachkee teachers, who won first prize for their haunted house an the Big Cypress Halloween Carnival. The teachers, said Chris Mendicino, talked about the prize money and what to do with it. They could have split it up among themselves, or buy some equipment for the school, but in the end they decided to donate the money to a worthy cause.

Mendicino contacted the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Then the teachers extended the invitation to all the students to add to their original winnings of $500. The students and teachers became very enthused with the idea of helping sick children and their families. The donations just grew and grew.

Emceeing the check presentation was Ahfachkee school supervisor, Keeno King. Before the amount was revealed, he said: “You guys did a fantastic job raising this money and you will be blessed for it sometime down the road.”

King said he was excited by the school’s achievement of raising so much money in such a short amount of time. But he kept the amount secret. Even before the check amount was revealed the charities’ vice president expressed his gratitude and told the students about the good work of the Ronald McDonald House.

“We want to thank you,” said Leclair, vice president. “We are so amazed and grateful for what you are doing to help others.”

The Ronald McDonald House is a life saver for parents and siblings of seriously ill children who become hospitalized. If the family lives far away they can stay at the Ronald McDonald House for days and weeks if necessary where they get a lot of personal attention and emotional support from the Ronald McDonald staff and volunteers.

It offers a home away from home for families of seriously ill children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The house has six private bedroom suites, a fully stocked kitchen, dining room, living room, children’s recreation room and laundry room to meet the needs of families. All the food is donated, and so are the bedding and linens, the toys and furnishings.

Volunteers, approximately 30 at this time, clean the rooms, bake the cookies. This is offered to families for a small contribution and if that is not possible; no one is turned away.

An example of a desperate need is a mother whose new born is premature. She can live at the house while her baby remains hospitalized until the infant is ready to go home. Often the family may have a child who has been hospitalized while they are on vacation in Florida. Without the funds to stay in a hotel while their child receives medical care, the house is their place of shelter so they can keep vigil by their child’s bed side.

Fourth Grade Teacher Mendicino, who was put in charge of the fundraiser, said the students were asked initially to just save their pocket change and donate small amounts of money. Then he said they escalated the money raising activities to having raffles and bake sales.

During the Thanksgiving season they created a giant paper turkey on a bulletin board and anyone could buy a feather, write a Thanksgiving message on it and paste it on the turkey. On another day the children could buy their way out of having to wear the school uniform by donating to the fundraiser. The children got their parents involved and even asked Tribal citizens for donations.

Another fundraiser was a silent auction sponsored by the pre-kindergarten class in which they took bids on a giant zucchini squash grown by pre-k student Charli Frye. The zucchini was grown in the Ahfachkee Traditional Gardens and measured 15 and a half inches by three-and-three-quarter inches.

As part of the check presentation, each class came forward to accept a special certificate for their donations as a class. During the fundraiser a competition started between classes to see who could raise the most money. In the lunch room was posted giant thermometers on the wall, one for each class, showing how much money they were raising.

During the check presentation the amounts raised by each class were announced and then the classes with the highest amounts were announced. It was interesting to watch the faces of the representatives from Ronald Mc Donald House Charities as their jaws dropped.

One representative said how happy they were when a high school on the coast had donated approximately $500. At that time, the amounts announced were already far exceeding that gift by the time the eight classes presented their certificates. Then the final top money raising classes were announced.

The Bronze Certificate went to the seventh and eighth grade for raising $550.81. The Silver Certificate went to the fifth grade for raising $627.48. The Gold Certificate went to the first graders for raising $1,059.59. The pre-kindergarten class earned and the Platinum Certificate, raising a whopping $2,211.78.

Next the pre-k class, with all of the students and teachers, came forward to present a huge cardboard replica of the check presented to the representatives of Ronald McDonald House. There was a long moment of applause and cheering.

Principal Terry Porter congratulated the students for their hard work to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House.

“How proud I am of each and everyone one of you, the students, and I also want to give a round of applause to your teachers and staff,” Porter said. “One of our great Native American traditions is to show generosity and that is what you have done.”

After the close of the check presentation, LeClair expressed his profound gratitude for the donation.

“I am speechless,” he said. “I am so impressed. My eyes were getting wet up there the whole time. It is marvelous how the whole community got behind this. These kids are champions!”