Three families to benefit from annual fundraiser
"Thousands of people pass through Molalla each year. And at first glance, it may seem like any ordinary town.
"But they can't see what makes us special: resilience, empathy, compassion, love."
These were the words of Natalee Litchfield, Molalla High School's Associated Student Body president, in this year's Share the Love opening video, which debuted at the school's 2020 kickoff assembly on Friday, Jan. 31.
The community this year celebrates 20 years of the student-led, charitable fundraiser Share the Love, which has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for local families facing hardship.
It all started in the year 2000 when teacher Joe Zenisek presented a jar to raise funds to buy medical supplies for a Filipino village. Zenisek said it took six months to raise $400. Fast forward to the year 2019, and the student body raised more than $90,000 for four families.
Zenisek said at the assembly that he credits the students, the staff and the community for transforming Share the Love into what it is today.
But the fundraising is just one part of it all.
"When Dr. Z planted the seed of this organization so many years ago, he didn't label it 'Share the Money.' He labeled it 'Share the love,' " Bonnie Sperl said in an application on behalf of Mike Campbell, "and that was no accident."
This year, student leadership's goal is to raise at least $55,000 through various events over the next few weeks leading up to the big check reveal on Feb. 21. And it's all for the three recipients they selected: the Blatter, Campbell and Us-Zapata families.
"As a community, we have held people's hands as they face financial and emotional hardships," Litchfield said. "Molalla is so much more than ordinary, because year after year, over and over again, we have chosen love over everything."
Community activist Lynnis Blatter doesn't like the spotlight. She prefers to be a "shadow," working in the background to organize car seat safety clinics, emergency preparedness classes, crash reenactments and more under her nonprofit organization Molalla Communities that Care.
So, when she learned she would be one of Share the Love's recipients in 2020, she struggled, knowing the spotlight was coming her way.
But when the students called her name and the light turned in her direction, it all warmed her heart.
"There are so many out there that are me, me me; and these kids just go out of their way to do this," Blatter said. "To me, that's what makes my heart sing: is knowing that I may not have a lot of time left here to do what I can do, but there's all these kids coming up behind."
Blatter has been diagnosed with end-stage renal failure resulting from type-2 diabetes. She endures four-hour dialysis sessions three times every week. And she fights like she fought in 2000 when her cancer diagnosis left her with only a 30 percent chance of survival.
In her current condition, she's been hospitalized twice, amassing thousands of dollars in medical bills.
She and her husband are both retired, and their social security and retirement income doesn't even cover monthly expenses, much less the additional medical bills. To help make ends meet, Blatter's husband Rocky Blatter has gone back to work part-time as a security guard at Fred Meyer.
Even through the financial stress and failing health, Blatter will continue to work for the community as much as she can.
Michael Campbell has been a fixture in Molalla education since 1989 when he began teaching at Molalla Elementary School. He moved to Rural Dell Elementary in 1997, teaching first through third grades.
During the Share the Love assembly, Campbell said, "At least 26 of my former students came over to me asking if I remembered them."
In addition to teaching, Campbell has also been a longtime coach of football, track and wrestling.
He and his wife Sheila raised four boys and have 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two of his boys and their families live in Molalla and two others live in Redmond and Eugene. Two grandchildren currently attend Molalla High School. Many of his family members attended the assembly Friday.
Campbell wasn't ready to stop teaching in December 2018, but was forced to retire by the summer of 2019, months after doctors found his stage 4 lung cancer had metastasized to his spine and liver.
Since then, he's endured innumerable medical tests, procedures and treatments and is a shadow of his former self. He's had multiple surgeries on his spine, CT scans every six to eight weeks to assess the cancer and infusions of an experimental cancer drug every two weeks.
"Those close to Mike can see the very life, health and vitality that is so characteristic of him rapidly fading away," Bonnie Sperl said in the STL application on behalf of Campbell. "He has already beat his initial 9-month prognosis and is working on beating his most recent 6-month prognosis, given to him in September."
"You have to keep fighting because otherwise it's just, lay down and die," he said.
Both he and his wife Sheila noted to the Pioneer at least several times how humbled they were by all the support and love from Share the Love.
"We don't want to simply give him money," Sperl said in the application. "We want to give him something to hold on to, a reason to keep fighting valiantly. We want to share our love with him, just as he has done for so many in the community of Molalla for 30 years."
Before the school year began, Elysha Johnston, Felipe Us-Zapata's wife of 16 years, quit her job to take care of her newborn granddaughter Lailah, leaving Us-Zapata as the family's sole provider. Lailah's teenage mother lives in the home too, along with the couple's five other children, one whose adoption was just made official after the family fostered her for many years.
Toward the end of October, Us-Zapata, feeling like he had a cold, went to the doctor.
Two days later, he was rushed from Silverton to Emmanuel Lutheran Hospital after a CT scan revealed a large tumor in the middle of his brain.
It took eight hours for surgeons to remove as much of the tumor as they could. The next day, Us-Zapata endured a second surgery to remove more of the tumor. After the second surgery, a stroke left the left side of his body paralyzed.
The tumor was sent for pathology, which confirmed that Felipe is suffering from Glioblastoma Multiforme—a rare and near always fatal brain cancer, according to the family's doctor, who had permission from Us-Zapata and Elysha to share medical information.
Despite this swift and drastic medical trauma though, Felipe is quick to laugh and make everyone around him comfortable. He makes jokes about the radiation he's been receiving for the past six weeks and smiles at other silly jokes.
How does he keep his head up? His faith in God, he said.
The doctors say he has two years to live, or shorter. Still, Us-Zapata and Elysha said they feel blessed, from the church down the street bringing them prepared meals nightly to being selected as recipients for Share the Love.
"We can't thank everyone enough and we can't put into words how much this much means to us," US-Zapata and Elysha told the Pioneer.
"I can't even express my feelings," Elysha said, nearly in tears. "All these people have come together and provided for us; God is great."
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