by Cori Hilsgen
Students in the Sartell School District once again showed their kindness and generosity when they greatly contributed to raising more than $18,000 for “Make-A-Wish.”
Because of help from the Sartell High School Student Council, area residents, other students, faculty and staff in the district, organizers of the fundraising events are hoping 10-year-old Sophia (Sophie) Lathe, who is a fifth-grader at Sartell Middle School, will be granted her wish.
Sophie has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative muscle disease that affects her ability to walk.
She is currently receiving Spinraza injections at the University of Minnesota to help treat her condition. Her parents, Holly and Garrett Lathe, said the injections won’t cure her but should help her maintain mobility for a longer time than she would without medication. She receives treatments about every four months.
Her Make-A-Wish wish is to travel to Disney World in Florida with her family, while her current mobility still allows her to enjoy many of the attractions and do some things independently.
Her parents both said they don’t know what the future holds, but they do know she wants to make the most of each day and each chance she gets.
Last year, Sartell students helped raise funds for another student, Jackson Stewart, to receive his wish for a golf cart. Stewart received his Sabre blue “kitty-kat” golf cart in April at a ceremony at Oak Ridge Elementary School.
Student-council advisor Karrie Fredrickson said when Jackson’s wish was granted, the students asked if they could participate in raising Make-A-Wish funds again.
When they heard Sophie had applied for her wish, they were even more motivated to help.
To raise funds, student-council members sold shirts during homecoming week, which took place the first week in October. The shirts also served as a ticket for entrance to the homecoming black-light dance.
They also sold “Savers for Sophie” bracelets and started an online campaign.
Fredrickson said Lori Dornburg’s middle-school students were a tremendous help. Every day the student council sent shirts over to the middle school, and students there sold all of them.
Many groups, businesses and others, donated to the fundraiser. The Sartell Sabre football team donated $400 from working volleyball concessions and the St. Cloud Federal Credit Union donated $100 after having employees pay to participate in a dress-down day.
Two student-council members who were very active with organizing the fundraisers were Emma Gunderson and Aidan Speckhard. Both are very active and involved students at Sartell High School.
Gunderson, a senior at Sartell High School, serves on the student-council executive board. When she and others learned Sophia had applied to Make-A-Wish, they wanted to help.
She helped coordinate a date for the interview and helped Speckhard interview Sophie for the fundraiser.
“I chose to be the head/organizer of this wish because I knew Mr. and Mrs. Lathe, and I had seen and talked to Sophie before and I wanted to go that extra mile for their family,” Gunderson said. “I wanted to be sure the interview was comfortable for her, and I wanted to make sure she was having a good time throughout everything.”
Since she wanted someone to be that person, Gunderson said she decided she was going to be that person – a fun personal assistant.
Speckhard, a senior at Sartell High School, was the main communicator with the Lathe family. He and Gunderson spoke on behalf of the Sartell High School Student Council to people in the city.
Speckhard has known the Lathe family for many years and also comes from a family of musicians, like the Lathes. When he learned the fundraiser might help Sophie, he knew he wanted to become more directly involved.
The student council’s executive board liked the idea of having someone with a close relationship to the family as a central leader and Speckhard said he was honored to fill that role.
He led the interview process and also coordinated showcasing the Lathe children as they sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at the homecoming game.
“I was so excited when I had the idea to have them perform at the homecoming game, and they did a phenomenal job,” Speckhard said. “They are so talented.”
Speckhard’s favorite part of the Make-A-Wish process was the interview.
“It was so fun to just sit and talk about Sophie’s wish with her and her family,” he said.
He and Gunderson spent almost three hours at the Lathe house after the actual interview was done, just visiting.
Speckhard said he found it rewarding to see the Sartell area’s positive response to the interview and to know it helped spread awareness.
Sophie is a huge fan of Star Wars. When Gunderson asked Sophie what she was looking forward to most at Disney World, she guessed she would reply with one of the princesses or a fun character, but she said Star Wars.
“We are so humbled by the incredible generosity and outreach we’ve felt from the Sartell High School Student Council and the Sartell community,” said Holly Lathe. “It’s almost surreal to experience something like this. Sophia is so incredibly excited to have her wish granted. Thanks to each and every person who contributed.”
Fredrickson said they have raised more than $18,000 so far that will be given to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to hopefully help grant Sophie’s wish and a couple of others. The Make-A-Wish Foundation distributes the money and figures out the logistics of everything.
“Student council is so sincerely grateful to be a part of such a caring and giving community,” Fredrickson said. “They have worked since July to plan for this and are so happy to have the school and the community be a part of something larger than themselves.”
Fredrickson and some of the students attended a leadership conference in June because of generous grant support from the Sartell-St. Stephen Education Foundation. She said this has been the catalyst for ideas they return to the Sartell area.
Holly teaches music classes for kindergarteners to fourth-graders at Pine Meadow Elementary in Sartell. She is also the interim director for the Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota Con Brio ensemble of sopranos and altos.
Garrett is the choral director at Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School. He is also the founding and artistic director of the Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota, which is an auditioned community choir for singers in high school in grades 9-12. Garrett directs the Cantanti ensemble for this organization which includes sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.
The Lathes have ties to the Sartell and St. Cloud area that are long-standing. Holly and Garrett are both musicians and enjoy performing arts, so they’ve been part of the Sartell-St. Stephen High School in past and current events. Those include family involvement with the St. Cloud State Cantabile Girls’ Choir, St. John’s Boys’ Choir, GREAT Theatre Company, The Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota and much more.
“Our family is a close-knit group,” Holly said. “We look out for each other and really enjoy being together.”
If Sophie is granted her wish, the family is hoping to travel to Disney World together, but aren’t quite sure when.
Their other children include Emma, 15, a ninth-grader at Sartell High School; Spencer, 13, an eighth-grader at Sartell Middle School; and Kate, 12, a seventh-grader at Sartell Middle School.
If you are interested in donating to Make-A-Wish, this is the link: http://site.wish.org/site/TR/FriendsandFamily/Make-A-WishMinnesota?px=3298785&pg=personal&fr_id=2667.
Children with life-threatening medical conditions can be referred to Make-A-Wish, which strives to grant experiences or “wishes” to these children.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.