A 6-year-old medically challenged boy, Avery Horneck, was recently honored as a Sparrow during a Sherwood Middle School closing assembly, held June 15.
According to a biography, Horneck experienced unexplained seizures after birth, and tests and medications could not identify the cause.
At the age of four months, genetic testing revealed a mutation on the KCNA2 gene, which causes a condition called epileptic encephalopathy. The condition produces multiple severe disabilities.
Horneck, who lives in Southwest Portland, uses a wheelchair, is fed through a tube, and is non-verbal.
Despite his disabilities, Sparrowclubs director Laura Queen said, "He's so sweet, he's so expressive. He laughs and he smiles … the kids just fell in love with him."
Queen continued, "His smile lights up the room. He loves being outside. He is full of love and excitement. He's wiggly and he's so responsive."
Sparrowclubs is set up to help the families of children who experience challenging medical conditions.
"Sparrowclubs is a local nonprofit, based out of Oregon (Bend)," Queen said. "We empower youth to look outside themselves."
The idea behind Sparrowclubs is to encourage school students to help the families of youngsters in medical need (known as Sparrows) by performing community service.
"Because of local business sponsors, and we call those community club sponsors that are willing to put forth the dollars, we are able to offer these programs to schools at no cost," Queen said.
"We launch the project at the school by introducing a Sparrow at an all-school assembly," she said, noting, "In the last two years, those assemblies haven't been live, due to COVID, so we've done them virtually."
Queen added, "We share the Sparrow's story through a video. … We give students an opportunity to help their Sparrow. We do that by asking them to basically give back to their community one hour."
Because of these local business sponsors, each hour of community service unlocks $10 that can help these Sparrow families.
"We cap those hours at 300, because otherwise, our sponsors would literally go broke," Queen added, with a smile.
Describing the Sparrow program further, Queen said, "It's about helping the family that has a child in medical need or medical crisis, but really, what we are about is empowering youth to give back and teach them that they have purpose and that they have value. Our Sparrows just partner with us to ignite that change and that compassion within kids."
Oriana Horneck, Avery's mother, was happy with the response from the middle school students.
"Going into it, we really didn't know what to expect," Horneck said. "We were really pleasantly surprised by just the outpouring of support and care for Avery and our family."
Horneck said, "Really, throughout the year, the kids at the school showed a lot of compassion for Avery by writing him birthday cards and Christmas cards … the school assembly was a bit overwhelming in a good way, in that there were hundreds of kids together, cheering for Avery. It was pretty emotional to see, hear and feel that energy from the student body in support of Avery."
Numbers reveal that the popular Sparrow program has raised a lot of money over the years to help families.
Since the program started, Sherwood Middle School students have raised over $14,000 through community service and sponsor dollars. This translates to 2,236 hours of community service. Sherwood High School has raised over $21,000 dollars and performed 3,338 hours of community service.
"Collectively, it's pretty cool," she said, noting that neighboring Sherwood High School recently honored another Sparrow, 12-year-old Jillian Stevens, who is known to enjoy technology and has a great sense of humor.
Stevens had difficulty sucking and swallowing when she was born. At just three weeks old, doctors placed a G-tube in her stomach to allow her to receive nutrients. Doctors discovered Jilly had many movement disorders, including dyskinesia, dystonia and hypertonia.
Today, Stevens uses a wheelchair for mobility. Like Avery Horneck, she is non-verbal.
"She is amazing," Queen said of Stevens, who lives in Tigard.
Stevens' father, Michael, was proud of the effort by the high school students.
"It was such a big gesture and very touching," he said. "The work they did, we couldn't have gotten by without their help."
As an example, Stevens recalled that the transmission went out on their wheelchair van, which is the primary transportation needed to get Jillian to her therapies.
"With the Sparrowclubs, they were able to help us fund getting the transmission rebuilt," Stevens said.
Queen gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing students help these young kids.
"Working with these families who are willing to share their stories is probably the best thing I have ever done in my entire life," said Queen, a former educator. "Their stories are so inspirational, and every single one of them touches my heart in such a way that I can't even describe."
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