Coalhurst High students raise twice as much money as hoped for ALS

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Social Studies teacher Michael Saad, left, stands beside ALS Society President Karen Caughey, who visited the school to thank students for their fundraising and awareness efforts.

Story courtesy Coalhurst High School

Grade 9 Social Studies students from Coalhurst High School raised $1,466.83 for their ALS Wheelchair-for-a-Day Awareness Project, more than double their goal of $700.

ALS, which stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It is a degenerative nerve disorder that gradually causes patients to lose control of their voluntary muscles. In most cases, the patient's mind remains unaffected. Sadly and tragically, ALS is a fatal disease with no known cause, cure, or effective treatment. Many patients and experts liken it to being "slowly buried alive." 

For the month of May, students carried out a series of various, inquiry-based projects on civic engagement in the hopes of raising enough money to purchase an EZ Lift Chair for a person living with ALS in Alberta. An EZ Lift Chair is a remote-powered chair that allows for ALS patients to sit and shift comfortably for extended sitting periods. It can recline and tilt forward to allow patients to ease into, and out of, the chair more smoothly. Students set a $700  class fundraising goal to donate to the ALS Society of Alberta towards the purchase of a chair.

Working in small groups, the students came up with different fundraising plans, such as setting out donation jars, organizing bake sales, acquiring local business and organization sponsorship, social media awareness campaigns and online fundraising. Students prepared ALS news bulletins, informational posters, media posts and even produced a 30-second commercial promoting awareness of the disease. The project was highlighted by our actual “Wheelchair-for-a-Day” event, which involved six different students, over a period of two days (May 14-15) spending the entire course of the school day in a wheelchair, experiencing life like a patient in the latter stage of the illness. Teams of student “caregivers” were assigned to look after the kids in the wheelchairs, pushing them through the hallways, writing down their notes, and even helping them eat and drink at lunch time. 

“It was a real eye-opening experience,” said student Greg Dutchak, who spent the full day in the wheelchair on May 15th. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It is so easy to take our health and mobility for granted. I learned to appreciate being able to be able to eat when I want, stretch when I want, and just move in general.” 

“There were a lot of difficulties as a caregiver than I found really hard,” says Garett Everson, who was a caregiver for Dutchak. “It was difficult trying to fit Greg in tight places in our school and classrooms. I see how ALS would affect an entire family who had to do this every day. I was lucky I only had to do this for one day.”

The project kicked off on April 30th when Jan Zoeteman, the southern Alberta representative for the ALS Society, gave a presentation on life with ALS and the role the society plays in advocating and supporting patient care. With her was Linda Smith, a Lethbridge resident living with the disease, who gave a heartfelt, inspirational talk on the challenges she has faced, and her commitment to make the most of her life in spite of them.  The students also had a personal visit from the ALS Society of Alberta President Karen Caughey of Calgary.

When the final fundraising tallying was all done, students more than doubled their fundraising goal. Students presented their cheque to Zoeteman on June 11.

Special thanks to our sponsors for the project including the ALS Society of Alberta, Medichair Alberta, Mr. Kelly Robin, Palliser Local # 19 Teacher’s Association, and Meridian Storage & Handling of Coalhurst.

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