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Wilsonville fifth-graders start a fundraiser for Syrian refugees after spending the better part of the fall and winter researching the crisis

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - From left, Lola Kleiner, Ashley Sheirbon and Maddie Holly are in the midst of a fundraising campaign for Syrian refugees. When Lowrie Primary fifth-grader Maddie Holly contemplates how she would describe her quality of life she says she thinks about it in terms of a scale from 1-10. A wide smile spreads across her face as she considers what rating she'd give her current set of circumstances.

"My life is probably at a 10," she says with confidence. But her smile fades as she shifts her thoughts to the project she's spent the school year working on with fifth-grade classmates Lola Kleiner and Ashley Sheirbon. As part of Lowrie's enrichment class "Change Makers," the trio of students have spent the year learning about Syrian refugees and their entirely different set of circumstances.

"Their lives are probably at a zero," Maddie says. "Some people haven't seen their children or their mother in years. The parents, since there are no school options, there's no other option than work for some kids. We've watched a lot of videos on the refugee camps and what's happening to them, and it's very sad and hard to watch."

The girls' research on the estimated 13.5 million Syrian refugees that are dispersed throughout the world began in Jackie Fuller's enrichment class some seven or eight months ago. The purpose of the class was to introduce students to various problems and crises in the world today. The goal was to then try and help alleviate or even solve the problem in question, but Fuller says she never expected any of her students to go to the lengths that Lola, Maddie and Ashley have gone to since then.

"I've been impressed as their teacher because we started it in the fall and when the class ended they were still doing a lot of research at that point. When the class ended they immediately came to me and asked if they could keep working on it," Fuller says. "It's definitely worth all the time they've put into it. Other than providing resources and some support in setting up their website, it's been 100 percent them."

With Fuller's help the trio decided to start raising money to donate to Syrian refugees through the nonprofit organization Mercy Corps. They built their own page on Mercy Corps' website, setting a goal of $1,000 before the end of the year. They reached out to friends and family, telling anyone who would listen about the financial help that is needed.

"Of all the problems in the world this was the one we kind of thought was a really big problem and we wanted to try and solve it," Ashley says. "We watched some different movies about the refugee camps and we read some different articles, and we just decided we needed to do something."

Even more important than raising money, however, the three girls wanted to spread awareness of Syrian refugees and the problems they face on a daily basis. They managed to get a time slot on the Lowrie morning announcements, telling classmates and staff about their fundraiser, and say they talk about it with friends any chance they get.

"To think that some people are just really mean about it and don't want Syrians coming to their town is sad. We want to help them so that they can actually have a home and not be living in a refugee camp," Maddie says. "There was one guy on a movie that said he thought he'd be in there for two weeks, then two months, and now he's been in there for four years."

The group of friends have raised nearly $400 of their $1,000 goal, but say they won't rest until they hit that mark. They plan to fund raise through June if necessary and might even carry their efforts into the summer. Their web page lists some of the things that donated money goes toward, including a month's supply of bread for $11, access to water for 50 families for just $30, and emergency kits for Syrian families for $210.

"You can donate however much you want and every dollar helps," Ashley says. "There are a bunch of different ways you can give back to people and a bunch of different options."

To help with their fundraising efforts go to bit.ly/2nNDNdt.

Contact Wilsonville Spokesman reporter Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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