Students and teachers at New London Intermediate/Middle School have collected 1 million more pop tops over the past two years, and they celebrated the accomplishment with an assembly on Wednesday, March 18.
“Today is a very special day for us because we are celebrating one of our biggest accomplishments since we started collecting pop tops 13 years ago,” explained Erika Wilson, a sixth grade language arts teacher. “As a school, we have pulled off 1 million-plus pop tops for the fourth time.
“Better yet, we have done this in two years, which is unlike our other million pop tops moments, which took three years,” added Wilson as she spoke to a gymnasium full of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders. “In fact, we collected 489.6 pounds of pop tops throughout the entire year. This is about 620,323 pop tops. So far, we have collected 396 pounds this year, which is about 502,700 pop tops.
“We have demonstrated collective efforts among our community, staff and students for the great cause of the Ronald McDonald House Charities,” continued Wilson. “The funds raised after these pop tops are sold for recycling purposes are being donated to the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee.”
An aluminum recycling company in Milwaukee matches each pound of pop tabs with an additional $1 per pound donation when it’s brought in from the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The Milwaukee Ronald McDonald House uses pop top donations to help cover operating expenses.
New London students and staff have collected only pop tabs and not the whole pop cans because they feel that many families count on their aluminum can money for their own household needs.
A Ronald McDonald House – named after Ronald McDonald, a symbolized character for the McDonald’s fast food restaurants – is a place where the parents of children that are in a nearby hospital can stay for as many nights as their child or children are in the hospital for a reduced price.
Wisconsin has Ronald McDonald Houses in Milwaukee, Madison and Marshfield.
Wilson shared her story with students, detailing how Ashley Van Hueklon, one of her former student athletes at Oshkosh West High School, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Though Van Hueklon beat cancer, she had a relapse and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoma Leukemia.
“Ashley spent months that added up to over a year of total time at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee. While she was there, her mom, dad and sister didn’t want to be far from her. Fortunately, they found a Ronald McDonald house across the street from the hospital,” said Wilson. In this home-like place, they had their own room with a comfortable bed, a bathroom with all the necessities, and a kitchenette. It served as a place where Ashley could escape when allowed by her doctors. They found comfort, care and help at the Ronald McDonald house. My heart is closely knit to what these homes have to offer because of what I learned and witnessed as a friend of the Van Hueklon family.”
Mariah Ervin, a teacher from the New London High School CAB Academy and Special Education Department, shared some of her family’s positive experiences with the Ronald McDonald House.
“In August of 2011, my daughter Macy was born at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee,” Ervin began. “She was diagnosed with several severe congenital heart defects including Shone’s Syndrome and heterotaxy. She was taken to the PICU immediately after birth for observation so her doctors could determine how soon she would need open heart surgery, which ended up happening when she was just five days old.
“I was discharged from Froedtert Hospital the day after she was born. The Ronald McDonald House took my husband Chad, older daughter Hayley, and I in while Macy went through surgery and recovery,” said Ervin. “There were complications during her recovery phase which required two additional procedures and extended our stay to a total of a month and a half.
“The Ronald McDonald House provided us with our own room – a place to sleep, shower, and eat every single day. If there is one message that comes across in all that they offer people, it is that they are all about family,” commented Ervin. “We were offered meals onsite daily, no matter the day of the week, time of day, or whether or not it was a holiday. They had resources available 24/7 to help us through this difficult time. I was especially grateful for the programming and resources available for our older daughter, who was seven at the time.
“There simply aren’t words to explain the comfort and relief the Ronald McDonald House gave us by giving us the means to remain together through this challenging time,” stated Ervin. “I spent all day, every day, at the hospital with Macy; but I knew that if Macy’s condition changed unexpectedly and we needed to be at her side in the middle of the night, we could be there in less than 10 minutes.
“Remember those post-op complications I mentioned? We had several middle-of-the-night calls during our stay. If it had not been for the Ronald McDonald House, my family would have been forced to separate at a time when we needed each other the most,” said Ervin.
“The other gift the Ronald McDonald House gave us was one I didn’t appreciate until months after we went home that fall,” Ervin explained. “During that time we were able to meet and get to know many other families dealing with sick children, surgeries and operations, and dire circumstances with grim realities. Some stayed for shorter periods of time than we did, but many did not.
“We were able to connect with families that also had children with heart defects, and we met families with children who had much more serious conditions than Macy,” said Ervin. “Networking with others and simply knowing you’re not alone, even in extreme and rare circumstances, can offer the hope necessary to get through the day when all else fails. In fact, that hope may have been the only thing that got me through my worst days during those weeks.
“The goal of Macy’s open heart surgery was to help her heart continue to function until she was 6 months to 2 years of age, when her body was a little stronger and better able to withstand the next open heart surgery. We know that her heart will never be completely ‘fixed,'” said Ervin.
“Today, Macy is a loving, sweet, and silly 3 1/2 year old. She is full of life and unrelenting curiosity of the world around her. We have been so fortunate that she has not yet required another open heart surgery,” Ervin stated. “However, we do know she is living on ‘borrowed time,’ so to speak; her heart will require more surgery in the future, it is not an ‘if’, it is ‘when. It is a frightening reality to face, but my whole family is comforted knowing when that time comes, we will have the support of the Ronald McDonald House to help us through it – together. It is truly an unbelievable organization!”
New London Middle School student Storm Handrich and his mother spoke next, sharing their experiences at the Ronald McDonald House. Storm was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006.
“The Ronald McDonald House is a full community in and of itself,” said his mother, Jessi. “They provide everything you need, and there are so many people there to talk to you and help you through. It is really nice for family members to have somewhere to go and someone to talk to during some really stressful situations.”
An inspirational address
Marc Marsh, physical education teacher at New London Middle School and Bulldog varsity football coach, spoke next to introduce the assembly’s keynote speaker, Scott Tolzien.
“Though he is from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, Scott Tolzien certainly has made his mark here in Wisconsin. In 2009-10 he was the starting quarterback for our very own Wisconsin Badgers, and he also served as a team captain,” said Marsh. “He is a 2010 Big Ten Champion, Rose Bowl player, two-time Academic All-Big Ten achiever, the Big Ten’s Distinguished Scholar winner in 2010 and a winner of the 2010 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given only to the nation’s top senior quarterback.
“Scott is entering his fifth season in the National Football League. This will be his third season with the Packers. He has attended three National Football Conference Championship Games and one Super Bowl,” added Marsh.
Students gave a hearty round of applause as Tolzien shook hands with Storm Handrich and stepped to the podium to share his message.
“This is a phenomenal cause that you are supporting,” said Tolzien of the Ronald McDonald House. “Families staying at the Ronald McDonald House are living in a nightmare, but donations like yours help provide a comfortable place for them to stay throughout the ordeal.
“I want to tell you about two friends of mine from Appleton who have experienced firsthand the benefits of the Ronald McDonald House,” Tolzien commented. “These two young men have battled cancer since they were young. Jackson had beaten cancer, only to have a relapse. After battling for many more months with a 50 percent chance of surviving, he was declared cancer-free on Christmas Eve this year. Jordan had a tumor behind his eye. He beat it, but then it relapsed and he was diagnosed with Leukemia and given a 10 percent chance to live. Fortunately, after a long battle, he has recently been declared cancer-free.
“Throughout their battles, Jackson and Jordan’s families had a nice place to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, thanks to donations like yours,” said Tolzien. “What you are doing helps people so much. The Ronald McDonald house is their home while they’re going through some challenging times, and they couldn’t be more thankful. You’re providing a place for these families in the worst of times.”
Tolzien then spoke to the students about what he feels are the most important things in life.
“My dream as a kid was to be a great football player,” Tolzien stated while presenting a slideshow of photos from his childhood football career. “I feel so lucky to be able to achieve those goals, and I want you all to know that it’s important to have a plan and a vision for your future.
“More than anything, it’s important for you guys to have a good attitude,” continued Tolzien. “You get to choose the attitude you’re going to have every day of your life.”
Tolzien then read The Guy in the Glass, a poem written in 1934 by Dale Wimbrow, reminding students to be true to themselves while working hard in life. Tolzien also shared a global village analogy, telling students to be grateful for what they have. He also told students that time is their most valuable asset, and it should be used wisely.
“Anything is possible if you go about things the right way,” concluded Tolzien.
Meet and greet
At the conclusion of the presentation, nine randomly selected students – including Jacob Tews, Jazmyne Kopitzke, Jadiah Krause, Kaya Klemes, Aaron Schultz, Katelyn Schley, Ben Noffke, Alayna Feavel and Cameron Gorges – got to meet and greet Tolzien. Joining the meet and greet were retired Green Bay Packer Tony Fisher and Pam Buckley, Community Relations Director, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin, for an autograph and photo opportunity.