Mt. Vernon Middle School Students Raise Awareness, Money For Fellow Classmate With Mitochondrial Disease
Photos Provided by Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation
Jakeb Henry, a Mt. Vernon Middle School student with Mitochondrial Disease, recently had a ball swimming with dolphins and painting with animals at The Indianapolis Zoo.
It was all thanks to his classmates, his fellow Mt. Vernon students, and many caring teachers and parents who held a fundraiser to educate the community about his disease and raise enough money for him to enjoy a zoo adventure.
Marisa Salasky, an eighth grade Academy U.S. History Teacher at Mt. Vernon Middle School says the fundraiser came about after Jakeb decided to share his story about the disease, which causes patients to struggle with energy defiance and lack of muscle strength. Jakeb shared his story with his science class.
“From there, many students wanted to do something for him (throw him a party, give him a cake or cards),” Salasky says. “Maitlyn Griner, an eighth-grade student, had the idea to put together a fundraiser through the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) to raise money to send him to the Indianapolis Zoo, an idea that teachers were already planning on doing for him.”
Salasky says the teachers thought the trip would be more meaningful if it came from the students.
“We discussed this with Jakeb, always getting his input on what we were going to do, and created the fundraiser,” Salasky says. “Jakeb really wanted to have the focus be on genetic disease awareness and kids suffering from the side effects. A week or two before the fundraiser, I asked students in NJHS who wanted to participate, to create powerpoint slides highlighting some genetic diseases that we would share with the student body over our daily announcements.”
The teachers informed the students a few days leading up to the fundraiser what they would be doing and when to start donating. The school’s initial goal was to raise $750 to send Jakeb and his family to the zoo to swim with the dolphins.
“We ended up raising close to $1,700,” Salasky says. “The kids were very involved. It was amazing to see them rally together for their classmate. Students donated their own personal money that they had been saving for various reasons because they wanted to see Jakeb get his dream trip to the zoo. During homeroom, we would have discussions about the genetic diseases highlighted in the announcements.”
Some students had personal connections they shared.
“It was very humbling for me as a teacher to have these discussions with students and to see them working to make this a reality,” Salasky adds. “Jakeb is an inspiration. He is the strongest kid I know. He never lets this disease be an excuse for him. He is not a victim. Jakeb has the biggest passion for history and social studies, and I love being able to have educated discussions with him.”
Stacy Griner, an eighth-grade academy science teacher at Mt. Vernon Middle School, says, “Jakeb was all smiles at his zoo adventure. When we first asked Jakeb about doing the fundraiser, he was pretty reserved and I don’t think he knew what to expect. Being able to share his story and raise awareness for genetic diseases has helped to bring Jakeb out of his shell a little.”
She added that Jakeb’s zoo visit was amazing to witness.
“I was so incredibly blessed and humbled to be asked to be a part of his experience,” Stacy says. “Every time students donated, I teared up. It was so moving to see teenagers giving of themselves to help a fellow classmate – even if they didn’t know him.”
Stacy knows Jakeb had a great time during his adventure and felt somewhat overwhelmed at the act of kindness.
“I’ve been teaching a long time and this by far was one of the most special and amazing events I’ve ever been a part of,” she adds.
Stacy’s daughter, Maitlyn, an eighth-grade student, says the fundraiser “meant that we were able to raise awareness, and we were able to give him something he wanted during his fight against Mitochondrial Disease. We want to keep supporting Jakeb so we can raise awareness and help others.”