Families with children experiencing medical challenges have a new resource in the Willamette Valley. Sparrow Clubs USA, which has a business office in Bend, expanded into the Eugene area in 2022, led by Willamette Valley Area Director Julie Burket.
Since the mid-1990s, Sparrow Clubs have matched partnered families and participating schools with local businesses in their region that are willing to pledge $5,000 to help cover a child’s medical expenses. Those funds are unlocked over the course of the school year through student-based community service. The program’s objective is to offer some financial support for the family in need, but also to give “students a chance to practice compassion in a tangible way,” Burket says.
The nature of the community service is left up to the school and participating students, she adds. The program is launched with a schoolwide assembly celebration in which the Sparrow — the child with medical needs — can participate. Burket says she tries to match Sparrows with schools near their homes. Sparrows may be a student at the school, and may also be involved in the community service portion of the program. Neither of those things, however, is required.
Participating students log at least 300 hours of community service through a QR code and a Google form. Students are asked to provide a brief statement about their community service experience, which the Sparrow and their family read at the end of the year. Of the pledged money, $3,000 goes immediately to the family while $2,000 goes to cover operating expenses, Burket says.
Sparrows typically face serious medical challenges, from cancer to cerebral palsy and liver transplants. Financial need on the part of the family is not a requirement. Instead, Burket says, “we’re looking for families who want to use their situation as a platform to share and inspire change.” One example of a Sparrow Clubs community service project in the Willamette Valley involved a teacher guiding students to remove an invasive species. Participating Sparrows not only gain social support in what might otherwise be an isolating experience, they’re also empowering other students to do good, Burket adds.
Jennifer Kubat’s 1-year-old son, Lazarus, a Sparrow in the Willamette Valley area, has a serious chromosome abnormality called Trisomy 13. Lazarus was born blind, and has experienced seizures and heart surgery, among other health challenges. Lazarus and Jennifer partnered with Sparrow Clubs and Eugene Christian School in the 2022-23 school year.
“I wanted to share his story and will continue to do so,” Kubat says. “I would recommend Sparrow Clubs to anyone with a child with a rare or terminal illness. This spreads awareness and also teaches kids to accept and embrace the differences in others,” as well as the struggles that some kids and families face. Burket has already worked with eight Sparrow families in the area, but a full Sparrow school year can reach as many as 20 children.
One business that has partnered with Sparrow Clubs in the Eugene area is Astec, an industrial equipment manufacturing and design company. General manager Avril Watt says the Sparrow Clubs organization “is all about compassion, and we could sure use as much of that in society today.”
“Astec is thoroughly enjoying the partnership with Sparrow Clubs as we watch our next generation of leaders understand the power of compassion as they give of themselves to help a Sparrow,” Watt adds. “What we get out of it is the joy of watching the concept of empowering kids to help kids actually become a reality right in front of our eyes. It’s deeply moving and powerful.”
For more information about Sparrow Clubs and how to get involved, go to sparrowclubs.org.