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Gypsum kids raising funds to replace farm animals

Scott N. Miller
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyRafael Macias,12, Sammy Jara, 12, Manuel Mena, 11, Frankie Martinez, 11, wear their donation stickers with pride after donating to the Tsunami relief Monday at Gypsum Creek Middle School.
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GYPSUM – Ivan Venzor is helping the best way he knows.Like a lot of other kids in the valley, Venzor, 13, was touched and saddened by the Dec. 26 tsunami that devastated areas of southeast Asia. He and his classmates at Gypsum Creek Middle School approached the student council there and came up with the idea for Dollar Donation Days, which runs through the end of this week.But this classroom is a little different.Venzor is confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. He has little control over his body, and has to communicate with nods, an electronic device that will talk for him in pre-recorded messages, and his large, brown eyes.His classmates at Gypsum Creek have other needs. Some are autistic, others live with Down Syndrome or brain injuries. All are classified as “special needs” kids.The kids in teacher Christie Patterson’s class had started work on a project called Read to Feed, talking about problems kids face in other parts of the world. Then the tsunami hit, and the numbers of dead started coming through the news in waves of their own.Venzor tried to get an idea of the devastation by imagining if towns in the area had been lost in a natural disaster. That’s when the scope of it struck. In a message he and his teachers recorded on his communication device, the towns rattle off in a machine-generated monotone: Gypsum, Eagle, Avon, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction… and on the list goes. ‘Remarkable response’To drum up support for the fund-raising effort, Venzor and his communicator have been to most of the classrooms at the school. The message has gotten the attention of many students.Using his device, Venzor said news of the tsunami made him both sad and mad.

That sentiment was echoed by Kendra Gresham, 12.She said she first heard about the tsunami while visiting her grandparents. On her way home, at least part of the enormity of the disaster hit.”I was talking to (my dog) and I knew she wouldn’t like it,” Gresham said. She’s especially excited about the prospect of money from her school buying farm animals for people in need.”They can have milk and get healthy,” she said.The kids’ response to the relief effort has been nothing short of remarkable, Patterson said.”I had my doubts,” Patterson said. “I wasn’t sure they could comprehend the immensity of it all. But they’ve been bringing in articles and things off the Web so we can talk about it.”Helping, for a changeThe relief effort has been woven into the kids’ daily lessons. In math, the kids found the number of doors in the building, then calculated 75 percent of that total. White cloths were then hung on those doors. The percentage of white-draped doors at the school is the same as the percentage of homes in Indonesia now displaying that traditional sign of mourning for a lost family member.And while the dollar donation drive is this week only, Patterson’s students will be talking about kids’ problems in Asia and the rest of the world until March. “The kids really like the hero stories about people who survived,” Patterson said.Donations for the Read to Feed program will probably be accepted until her kids are finished with their Read to Feed studies, Patterson said. For now, though, the goal is simple: collect $1 from each of Gypsum Creek’s roughly 300 students.

And, for a bunch of kids who usually get help, the chance to give some aid is a good change. Limited to only basic answers by his communicator, Venzor said the chance to help others made him happy and proud. “It feels better to help,” Gresham added.Patterson can see the change in her students. “They don’t get asked to help very often,” she said. “Everybody always wants to help them, and it gets old. Now they know how good it feels to go in the other direction.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.===============



• One sheep: $120• A flock of ducks or geese: $20• One goat: $120• A flock of chickens: $20A pig costs $120, and, for those who like to go big, a water buffalo costs $250.===========================Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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