Jumping in to fight muscular dystrophy; preschoolers raise $400

By Jen Hirt Record-Courier correspondent Published:

STREETSBORO _ If only everyone had the ambition to raise $400 through two minutes of hopping, many financial woes would be dashed away.

Ten preschoolers at the Step2 Child Care Center did their part to help the Muscular Dystrophy Association by gathering pledges over the last two weeks based on how many times they could hop in 120 seconds.

The Step2 youngsters, ages two and a half to five, did an energetic group hop-a-thon on Tuesday Feb. 19, holding hands and giggling with their teachers.

Muscular dystrophy is a chronic, hereditary disease that causes muscles to weaken and atrophy. The national headquarters of MDA estimates that one million people in the United States have the disease.

Approximately 30 people in Portage County who have muscular dystrophy have registered with the association, although Hawthorne cautioned that there could always be more cases not yet registered.

"We're going to send it to the kids who can't walk," said preschooler Matthew Fronek, in reference to the $400 raised by the children and their parents. Fronek eagerly jumped the entire two minutes.

Samantha Montgomery, who unfortunately was absent, raised an astounding $150 with the help of her parents. She will do her jumping when she returns.

This was the first time Step2, which provides quality, low-cost day care for Step2 employees' children, participated in the hop-a-thon.

MDA's District Director, Cheri Hawthorne, gave a short talk to the children, bringing along her friends _ three dolls outfitted with a walker, leg braces and crutches, and a wheelchair. Hawthorne also brought a real, child-size wheelchair.

"What I want them to learn is that even though we are different on the outside, we're all the same inside," said Hawthorne. She further illustrated the point by having the preschoolers taste M&M candies of different colors. "They all have chocolate on the inside, don't they?"

Barb Mencl, who heads the teaching staff at Step2's center, said the children had been learning about muscles for the past two weeks.

"They've all been great," she said, with a hint of surprise that the children were remaining so attentive for Hawthorne and her dolls.

"Only two said they'd seen children in wheelchairs. Now they all say they will talk to kids in wheelchairs, and not point or laugh."

Hawthorne, who has done numerous presentations during her two years as District Director, allowed each preschooler to work the wheelchair, showing them how to move it forward and backward. As the kids clamored for a turn, she reminded them what it would be like to "be in a wheelchair all the time."

After a successful and rousing hop-a-thon, the preschoolers received individual certificates of achievement, coloring books, and stickers.

Most importantly, they learned not to fear muscular dystrophy, which often strikes children. After a brief respite for water, the youngsters were back with the wheelchair, learning how to turn it around without getting out.

"Kids are most often interested in how these things work," confirmed Hawthorne, referring also to the leg braces and walkers, which are not so commonly seen.

The MDA, started in 1950, has 186 district offices throughout the states. Portage County shares a district with Columbiana, Trumbull, and Counties. Hawthorne said that money raised in this area generally goes back to county residents who are in need.

The MDA tries to help out where insurance leaves off, usually covering up to $1700 in costs.

Hawthorne estimated that her district raises $5000 a year. The MDA operates almost exclusively on private donations. They receive no government grants, nor do they charge any fees.

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