Preschoolers join the fight against cancerFarrah Heitkamp and the other students at Dakota Prairie High School in Petersburg, N.D., trooped into the school gym Thursday morning, not knowing why they had been summoned to an assembly.
By: By Chuck Haga , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
Farrah Heitkamp and the other students at Dakota Prairie High School in Petersburg, N.D., trooped into the school gym Thursday morning, not knowing why they had been summoned to an assembly.
In marched 14 youngsters, ages 3 to 5, with colorful balloons and big bright smiles. They sang “Oh, you make me smile!”
And they asked Farrah to come down and join them. They had something for her, something they hoped would make her smile wide.
Farrah, 15, lost a friend a little more than a year ago, a girl who spent her early years near Petersburg before her family moved to Grand Forks. Ever since Ali Borgen died in January 2011, Farrah has thrown herself into a campaign to remember and honor her friend by raising money to fight childhood cancer.
The kids at Learning Ladder Preschool in Tolna, N.D., heard about the video tribute Farrah had made and shown to her schoolmates, and about the smiley-face pins she was selling. Ali’s theme throughout her battle with cancer was “smile wide every day,” and she had asked people to come to her funeral with balloons, bright clothes and smiles.
With the help of some adults, the preschoolers — kids from Tolna, Pekin and McVille, N.D. — designed and made hundreds of smiley-face magnets.
“They’re little, but they have big hearts,” said Melanye Poehls, owner of the preschool and mother of two students at Dakota Prairie.
“I told them Ali’s story and showed pictures, and they started working on the magnets,” Poehls said. “We did maybe 400 of them, and the kids took them home. They sold them to family members, and they went into town and sold them at the gas station, the bank and the store, and at basketball games.”
Got a million?
Some of the children took smiley magnets on family trips or sent them to relatives in Florida and other distant places. One young entrepreneur insisted he sold one to a horse.
“They walk around and tell me they’re fighting cancer,” Poehls said. “They’re pretty proud of themselves. Some know what it is and some don’t. You have to be a little careful, talking about serious illness with such young children.
“They had to practice their little selling speech: ‘It costs $5 or whatever you want to give me. If you have just a dollar, I’ll take a dollar. If you have $1 million, I’ll take $1 million.’”
They didn’t get any million-dollar offers. But most people gave well more than a dollar.
And so 14 of Learning Ladders’ 21 preschoolers strode single-file into the gym Thursday morning, holding hands, smiling and singing.
They had kept their project secret from Farrah, but now they asked her to join them.
They handed her a blown-up cardboard check for $1,032.
“The kids said their names and where they are from,” said Janet Edlund, Dakota Prairie’s superintendent. “Farah knelt to give each of them a hug, and they all surrounded her, arms around arms.
“She cried through the entire thing.”
Ali’s parents, Karen and Rich Borgen, and her brother, Dylan, were at the school to watch and thank the kids.
“It showed how something little can turn into something bigger by people taking small steps,” Edlund said.
Farrah said the kids’ effort surprised and overwhelmed her.
“They’re so cute,” she said. “And they were smiling.”
What would Ali have thought?
“She would have been laughing at me because I was crying.”
Chuck Haga is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by Forum