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Kids learn the joy of giving

Students at South Medford High School deliver a Sparrow Club present to 5-year-old Talent girl with leukemia

— As 5-year-old Betsy Mena cruised through the streets of the small mobile home park in Talent Tuesday afternoon with 3-year-old sister Leslie riding shotgun, it was more than evident that the South Medford High School students who surprised the girls with the miniature Barbie Jeep had received the real gift.

At first, Betsy and her sister could only giggle and bury their tiny faces in their parents' shoulders while Santa (a.k.a. student disciplinary technician Phillip Ortega) let out huge belly laughs and more than 30 students cheered and snapped photos.

Finally the twosome was coaxed into the tiny purple and pink vehicle, their brown eyes sparkling as they headed down the street while their parents, Raul and Rosa, grinned from ear to ear.

The real reason the students had come to know the family was the farthest thing from anyone's mind.

Most parents don't have to deal with this until their kids turn 15 or 16, laughed South High teacher Jerry Hagstrom as he dodged the newly minted drivers.

But, joking aside, Hagstrom knew that the light-hearted afternoon with the little girls was a bright spot during tough times. Betsy is fighting leukemia and recently began treatments that are expected to last for two years.

After learning about the little girl, South Medford's students adopted her as their sparrow through a national non-profit organization known as Sparrow Clubs, which pairs individual schools and groups with a child facing a medical crisis.

C.J. McPhail, Southern Oregon director for Sparrow Clubs, said the response to the program has been overwhelming. Sparrow Clubs are popping up across the country, he said, and each story is as touching as the next.

All 18 Medford schools have asked for it, said McPhail. There's not a school that hears about it that says, 'No, we don't want that.' It's just an unbelievably great program.

Each case involves a school or group, a child and a business sponsor.

McPhail said this year had seen the biggest push yet for sparrows. Students at Griffin Creek Elementary raised &

36;15,000 for fellow student and 10-year-old Ashley Rucker who has muscular dystrophy.

A 4-year-old boy named Tanner Ulrey, who suffers from a rare blood disease known as Wiskott Aldrich Syndrome, was adopted by students at Crater High and students at McLoughlin Middle School have adopted as their sparrow fellow eighth-grader Samuel Tahay, who has survived multiple types of cancer and suffers paralysis in half his body.

Through Sparrow Clubs, students do good deeds and their sparrow receives funding for the time they put in as well as through each club's business sponsor.

McPhail said the popularity of the Sparrow Clubs proved that kids could step up in big ways to help someone in need.

Tuesday, the generosity that students are capable of was shining in the faces of three dozen high schoolers doting on two adorable little girls, who giggled as they nearly ran over the crowd.

All of those kids standing around got more out of that than those little girls, Hagstrom said. I don't have the slightest doubt about that.

For more information about adopting a sparrow or sponsoring a club, call McPhail at 621-1126 or log on the Internet at .

Five-year-old Betsy Mena, right, and her sister, Leslie, take a spin in their new Barbie Jeep while members of the South Medford Sparrow Club share their glee. The club adopted Betsy as their 'sparrow' after learning that she suffers from leukemia. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli