Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 14, 2012


Although unrelated, 2 stories both tell inspiring tales

The Independent

ASHLAND — We pause to commend two events chronicled on the pages of this newspaper in recent weeks that we found impressive, and in their own way inspiring.

One is Friday afternoon’s parade in which the entire student body of Russell McDowell Intermediate School marched past the home of an 11-year-old fellow student whose courageous battle with brain cancer had kept her out of school for the entire year. Led by a police escort, the students, faculty and staff of the school walked the four blocks to the home of 11-year-old Emily Clark on Vallance Street in Flatwoods. All of the more than 300 students waved at Emily as she sat on a cushion on her front steps. Many of them spoke to their friend and Emily also received some balloons and a fleecy blanket in green and purple, colors that symbolize the fight against brain cancer.

The other event occurred earlier this month when the members of Grayson Freewill Baptist Church celebrated reaching their goal of collecting one million pennies. It took the church about two years to collect the $10,000 worth of pennies, but it would have taken less time than that had not a burglary about six months into the penny drive resulted in the theft of about $500 in pennies.

The perpetrators were caught when they rather foolishly tried to cash in the coins the day after the break-in, said the Rev. Jim Varney, the church’s pastor. They were subsequently convicted, and, as part of their sentences, had to make restitution to the church, although not in pennies.

The idea for the penny drive came from one of Varney’s sermons. The message of it, he said, was that things like pennies might seem worthless and insignificant when there’s only a few of them, but they can add up to a lot. During the drive, members of the church emptied their pockets of pennies nearly every time they came to church.

Instead of being discouraged by the theft of the pennies, church members decided to start over, Varney said. If anything, the theft made church members even more determined to reach their goal of collecting a million pennies.

Since Emily Clark’s brain cancer was diagnosed two years ago, she has undergone two surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. She currently is unable to walk. Despite her illness, Emily’s mother, Johnda Clark, says her daughter still if “all smiles. Regardless of the pain, she doesn’t complain, ever.”

 But Emily does miss school and all the friends she has there. Since she is unable to go to school, teachers decided the school should go to her.

Danielle Mason, who was Emily’s teacher the year she was diagnosed, remembers how other girls in the class made it their mission to keep tabs on Emily, who had occasional seizures. “They would stay with her on the playground and help  her,” Mason said.

After the students, teachers and staff returned to McDowell not much had really changed because of their walk to Emily’s house. But in the best way they knew how, everyone in the school — some of whom didn’t even know Emily — told her that she had not been forgotten and her many friends still cared about her and wished her the best. What a powerful message that was, and we commend those who helped organize the walk to Emily’s house.

Now that Grayson Freewill Baptist has achieved its million-penny goal with the money being used to refurbish the steeple of the church built in 1976, Varney and other church members have set another goal expanded their vision. He said the church would try to amass 10,000 $1 bills. Once they are collected, he said, the plan is to put them into one of those machines used in “cash-grab” promotions, which use air currents to create swirling vortexes of currency. The idea is to give folks the chance to see what all those bills look like in one of those devices, he said.

We know what you are thinking: There is no connection between visiting a sick classmate and collecting a million pennies, and you’re right.  However, in different ways, both the penny drive and the march to Emily’s house sent positive messages that inspired us.