Tori Wichelt and Katie Sauer just wanted to provide some financial support for a program that helps local families.

It was a bonus when the Lincoln Middle School sixth-graders realized one of their teachers, Kim Novak, had benefited from the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and that her 3-year-old son, Tanner, is now a spokesman of sorts for the organization.

“It feels really good,” Sauer, 12, said. “You know you’re helping a family in need.”

The pair raised more than $600 for CMNH, money that will help provide support services for families with children receiving medical care. The network has more than 170 member hospitals, including Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

Money raised by Lincoln students will be used to help families cover the cost of transportation, specialized equipment and other unexpected costs that may arise during medical treatment.

The girls are “great role models,” said Amanda Vanderhey, CMNH program specialist.

“It’s amazing to see the effort that they’ve put forward,” Vanderhey said.

Wichelt and Sauer came up with the idea as a final project for their school’s Gang Resistance Education and Training program, which also teaches middle school students about decision-making and being a positive force in community. Most students complete a PowerPoint presentation, said La Crosse Police Officer Phil Martin, who leads the G.R.E.A.T sessions at Lincoln.

“These two girls went above and beyond,” Martin said.

The duo sought donations from friends and family members, and sold bracelets to their peers at Lincoln. They also used another, particularly effective, fundraising tool: cupcakes.

“Sixth-graders and middle-schoolers are attracted to food,” Wichelt, 11, said. “We were out of cupcakes in, like, five minutes.”

The girls’ efforts are especially moving for Kim Novak, whose son, Tanner, suffers from multiple congenital heart defects and had five open-heart surgeries by the time he was 18 months old.

Tanner is one of CMNH’s 2013-14 Heroes, and he is featured on Gundersen Medical Foundation’s website as one of the La Crosse-area children who have benefited from the organization’s services. It has been more than a year since his last surgery, but he will require additional surgeries as he grows up, Kim Novak said.

Before Tanner’s last surgery, Doctors told Novak her son might not survive the operation.

“The pumping part of his heart wasn’t working,” Novak said.

Novak’s pain was clear to Sauer. Sauer has been in Novak’s high-performance learning classes since third grade.

“She had to skip a lot of days because Tanner was in the hospital,” Sauer said.

But Sauer didn’t know that Tanner had become the local face of the organization she wanted to help.

Tanner clung shyly to his mother’s leg as Wichelt and Sauer announced their donation.

“That is something that goes above and beyond,” Novak said. “These two girls are an excellent example of giving back and paying it forward.”


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