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 Friendship School Wheel-a-Thon Brings Donations and Smiles

At Friendship School's seventh annual Wheel-a-thon fundraiser April 20, volunteers helped students go a total of 85 miles around the campus.

It was an energetic and exciting morning not just for students, but for the parents, educators, and community members involved as well.

"This is so much fun," said Melanie Ellsworth, one of the volunteers and president of the South Bay Union School District Board of Trustees. "It's wonderful to see the kids smiling. It's going to put a smile on my face for the rest of the day, maybe longer."

Before the hour-long event, the students were noticeably excited, shrieking and clapping in anticipation. And then they were off. Volunteers helped push the students in their wheelchairs, cheer on participants, and score the laps. Some even got competitive to see who could finish the most laps around the school.

"It's the power of community," said Don Buchheit, interim assistant superintendent of Student Services and Programs for the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE). "This event really lets the students know that we're here for them, and we're working together."

Being able to participate in the event means a lot for the students, said Wayne Morris, who volunteered for the event along with his wife to support their 12-year-old son who attends the school.

"You can just see on his face how much he enjoys it," Morris said.

Principal Diana Lynn started the event, which is like a jog-a-thon, seven years ago because she thought it was important for the nearly 50 students at Friendship School to be able to participate in their own fundraiser.

"It's really neat to see that after seven years, the kids really look forward to it," Lynn said. "We're doing this for them. It's meaningful for them."

This year, students and volunteers raised more than $1,000 to help pay for supplies and opportunities for the students.

In the end, it's as much about the smiles as it is about the money, volunteers said.

"It means the world to the students, and you can see it in their eyes, you can see it in their faces," Buchheit said.

The Imperial Beach school serves students age 3 to 22 from the southern portions of the county with multiple and severe disabilities along with health problems. It's operated by the San Diego County Office of Education in affiliation with the school districts in the South County Special Education Local Plan Area.