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Malibu High students rally to aid cancerstricken child

Huge turnout kicks off local “Sparrow Club USA” chapter, which will raise money through community service to benefit 2-year-old Benjamin Hacker.

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:45 am

In a big show of support, over 200 students at Malibu High School volunteered to give up their lunch period last Thursday to attend an assembly kicking off the school’s new Sparrow Club USA chapter. The club, which was brought to the campus through the efforts of Gabriel Rapoport, a junior, will raise money for the cancer-stricken toddler of two Malibu High teachers through community service.

School officials, who expected maybe 50 students to show up at the gym for the presentation, scrambled to relocate the audio visual equipment when a much larger crowd showed up.

Principal Jerry Block complimented the students, telling them, “I’m thrilled with the turnout, and I’m so proud to be your principal ... It really says a lot about you as indi- viduals that you want to come here and support fellow Shark community members.”

The assembly was the culmination of months of effort by Rapoport, now the club’s president. It began when he was home one night last summer watching “Extreme Makeover—Home Edition” on TV—a weekly reality show that does home improvements for families in need. The episode featured a family with a “Sparrow Kid” who’d been adopted by a “Sparrow Club,” a schoolbased club where students raise money for a sick child through community service.

Rapoport learned more about Sparrow Clubs USA, a nonprofit organization based in Bend, Ore., after attending a HOBY Leadership Academy, which emphasizes volunteerism and community service. He knew he wanted to start one at MHS. When he learned at the beginning of the school year that teacher Thomas Hacker wouldn’t coach tennis because he had a sick toddler, Rapoport knew which child the aspiring club could adopt.

Ben Hacker, the two-year old son of Malibu Middle School art teacher Thomas Hacker and Malibu High School French teacher Rebecca Owens, was diagnosed with a rare and highly malignant form of kidney cancer last summer.

After having one tumorous kidney surgically removed at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, little Ben went through four rounds of high-dose chemotherapy before Christmas and suffered some serious side effects.

As of now, MHS teacher Sarah Ryan said Ben had finished radiation treatments three weeks ago, and “all of his scans thus far have shown NED (no evidence of disease).” He will be monitored closely, but for now, it appears he may have overcome the odds.

“He’s finally able to be like a normal kid. His hair is even starting to grow back in,” Ryan wrote. “So we are very optimistic that he will be in the 5% that beat this terrible cancer!”

Hacker and Owens have taken turns at not working. Owens took a leave of absence from teaching the first semester of school, and Hacker has taken off this semester resulting in a big cut in family income.

MHS staff and students have all agreed to a scheme to make school a “cancer free place” for Ben’s mother, now back teaching. No one is to ask either parent how Ben is doing, Ryan explained.

One of the hurdles Rapoport faced in getting the club up and running was raising the initial $4,060 that Sparrow Clubs USA requires. Some of the money goes toward one-time administrative expenses but most is set aside for the Sparrow’s family. Over $7,000 in seed money was eventually donated, primarily from two local sourcesóan anonymous donors and Cindy Crawford, but many locals made smaller contributions.

Rapoport said the group “will continue to fundraise in order to keep getting money to Ben’s family.” However, what’s important to him now is that, “whenever there’s a family in Malibu in need, the Sparrow Club will be able to help them.” He also wants the middle and elementary schools to know that they can now adopt a Sparrow.

Since all MHS students are already required to put in 80 hours of community service before graduating, the Sparrow Club doesn’t require any extra work. Students just need to pick up special voucher forms from the Service Learning Coordinator, and for every hour of community service, turn in a form to trigger a $10 donation to the Hacker/Owens family.

Steve Mezich, executive director of Sparrow Clubs USA, attended last week’s assembly. He said Ben Hacker was the organization’s 803rd Sparrow.

“Kids with big hearts need heroic things to do,” Mezich said. “You came in and gave up your lunch period to help one of your own, and it’s pretty awesome.”

For more information, contact Gabriel Rapoport at gabrielrapoport@gmail.com.

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