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Sparrow Club: everyone needs a little help

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
  • The “Sparrow,” Baby Nathan, and his family stand in the chapel foyer and greet students after the chapel presentation. The newly formed Sparrow Club will be helping Nathan with medical procedures. His mom Brandi holds him, while Dad Jason holds Bella.

    -Photo by Ashley Moser

With the advent of a new club on campus–the Sparrow Club–students have an opportunity to use their community service for more than CCS credits and a pat on the back. The Sparrow Club, introduced to the campus this past fall, is part of a national program that involves youths working through community service, supporting teens, children, and even unborn babies who have critical illnesses.

The organization was founded in 1995 by Jeff Leland, a gym teacher at Kamiakin Junior High in Kirkland, Wash. According to his story at sparrowclubs.org: his infant son, Michael, had weeks to live unless he received a bone marrow transplant. The surgery would cost $200,000, and their insurance company wouldn’t cover such a large expense.

Dameon, a 325 lb. seventh grader, and one of the most picked-on students at Leland’s school, went to the bank, emptied his account and gave all of his $60 savings to the teacher.

The boy’s gift sparked a passion among his peers and in his community, which raised over $227,000 in less than a month.

Michael received the transplant and now lives a healthy life nearly 17 years later. Leland retired as a teacher and started Sparrow Clubs USA.

Juniors Kris Cox and Paul Roberson started Corban’s Sparrow Club. “I got involved in Sparrow Club when I was in high school,” Cox said. “Each year we had a different ‘sparrow’ we sponsored. The first year it was a boy in a wheelchair who needed surgery on his legs. The second year it was a girl with a lot of different developmental disabilities.

“The third was a boy who was born with heart deformities... My senior year we sponsored a boy who was developing benign tumors in his stomach. Each year we would raise money, and a lot of the school events were designed to raise money for Sparrow Club.”

Cox said he didn’t think about the club after he graduated until this past summer when he started working at the Salem Hospital as an acute physical therapy aide. He said he noticed all the people who needed medical care, but couldn’t afford the expenses.

“As a Christian, I need to help,” he said, “but what can I do to help someone who needs so much? Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by the fact that we can’t help everyone. That doesn’t mean we can’t help one person.”

Talking to his mother about the club, Cox realized he could start the club at Corban. He explained to the Sparrow regional director about the school’s community service requirements and how thousands of hours of community service go through Corban each year.

Cox and Roberson spent the first semester making phone calls and sending emails in search of a “sparrow” in need and a willing sponsor.

Finally they were successful: “We finally have a baby boy, 9 months old. His name is Nathan,” Cox said. “It’s really amazing looking at all the symptoms he has. There’s a whole page of different specialists they have to go to,” he said.

Nathan’s family heard about the program through their church and went online to learn more. After getting through the application process, they were placed on a waiting list until LCG Pence Construction, the same company that built the Psalm Center, came forward to volunteer as the sponsor; then they were paired up with Corban.

Cox hopes the fellowships and other clubs will get involved. Students are now able to put their community service hours toward saving the life of a 9-month-old boy. They will fill out vouchers explaining their type of community service and turn them in to Student Life. For every hour of community service, LCG Pence Construction will donate $10 to the “sparrow’s” account. Students may also host additional fundraisers and donate money to support Nathan’s family. The “sparrow’s” family may use the money on any expenses necessary.

“They’re spending thousands of dollars in transportation and medications that insurance won’t cover,” Cox explained. “In some families, the mom or both parents will have to stop working to take care of the child. So the insurance company is paying for medical bills, but they can’t buy groceries and stuff like that.”

Nick Nystrom, Sparrow Clubs Portland Regional Director, visited campus during Monday’s chapel, along with baby Nathan, his parents, Jason and Brandi Oliver, and his big sister, Bella. Students held back tears as they watched a slideshow video about Nathan and the struggles he has faced from his first breath and the challenges he will face on the difficult road ahead.

Nystrom had the Oliver family come up on the stage to introduce themselves. Nathan’s smiles brought “Oohs and aaahs” from students in the audience, as they met their “sparrow” for the first time.

Nystrom then asked the students to stand if they would be willing to support Nathan and his family by committing to do at least one hour of community service. Every student in the audience got to their feet.

“Today was a day I will never forget,” said Brandi Oliver in her blog entry after Monday’s chapel. “It was a day that gave our family hope, encouragement, and the peace of mind knowing that there are a vast number of college students at Corban College in Salem, Oregon, who are supporting Nathan and our family through prayer and community service.”

Nathan’s mother, Brandi, invites and encourages students to read her blog with regular updates on Nathan’s health and surgeries, photos, and biographical information at oliversfamilytwist.blogspot.com.