Community responds to special boy

Friday, November 28, 2003

The fund raising to get Racine Ghiz's special son a special dog started simply enough.

The task would be difficult. Because the family would have to train with the golden retriever mix the first week of December in Kansas City, time was as important as money.

Racine told her friends at the Cape Girardeau Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they began to brainstorm on how to raise $5,000 to $6,000 in only a month.

Church friend Erin Windbigler works in the Southeast Missourian advertising department and asked management to set up a Pay for the Pup II campaign for Racine's son, Josh. The Southeast Missourian Jr., a children's publication, raised money to pay for Cape Girardeau's two police dogs last year, and Windbigler thought a sequel was in order. And so did Cheryl Ellis, editor of the Junior. It would take a week or two to set up the account with the United Way, but the paper decided it would try to help.

Other friends donated homemade crafts or special services. An account was set up at Bank of America so people could donate money if they wished.

Among the first fund-raising activities were bake sales. The first was at the Wal-Mart in Cape Girardeau on Halloween, the second was at Jackson's Wal-Mart the next day.

One person after another stopped by the table, buying the home-baked goodies for many more times their true worth. One man and his daughter from Festus stopped by and handed over a $20 bill. His daughter was fascinated with Josh. They went inside the store and came back later with four more twenties. The girl asked Racine to write her to let her know if and when Josh got his dog.

A new name

Once the Ghiz family and Susan Bass committed to Cleo, the first order of business was to give Cleo a new name. This is standard procedure in the dog-training business, to protect the dog from previous owners who later find out the dog's worth. Bass decided Cleo's new name would be Crissy.

In the next few weeks, Cleo would become a new dog. It only seemed appropriate that she should have a new name.

Susan kept Crissy for the first couple of weeks and taught the dog the appropriate house manners. She taught Crissy how to snuggle, how to retrieve objects and to not retrieve objects when not given permission.

After a short time, Bass handed Crissy over to a Marine who trains bomb-sniffing dogs. The Marine has been working with Crissy ever since, teaching her specific tasks.

Generosity abounds

Once the word was out that a handicapped boy in Jackson needed money for a dog, the heroes began to emerge.

People began putting money into Josh's account, they began dropping off checks to the newspaper, they began planning for an auction.

Racine, who organized a couple of unsuccessful campaigns for Josh in Utah, was astounded by the community support. She would receive cards in the mail with a $20 bill, or a $10 bill, and a few nice words.

"It's not much," the cards would say. "But we wanted to help Josh."

"We wish we could give more," the cards would say.

To Racine, these cards and small donations mean more than the total money collected. For instance, one girl from South Elementary brought four quarters to school to buy a used book. She found out about Josh and instead gave the money to him.

The idea that so many people would donate money they could use elsewhere brings tears to Racine's eyes and makes her voice crack.

Racine's favorite gift came from a 9-year-old girl named Whitley Evans, a fourth-grader at South Elementary, a girl that Racine had never met.

Had Whitley known her letter to Racine would one day be included in the newspaper, perhaps Whitley would have been a bit more careful with her spelling. But if there were classes for compassion, innocence and generosity, Whitley would get an A-plus.

Not long after Whitley found out about Josh's campaign for a dog, she sat down with a piece of notebook paper and a pen and scratched out the following letter accompanied by a $1 bill:

Dear Josh's Mom,

I hope you like the money I sent. I will try to send them onece a week. I know that you might think it is weard, but Josh is my best frind that is why I want to help with the money.

Hear is what I do with Josh at school if you still think I'm weard. I yostto set by Josh, but now I neaver see him at lunch, but I know that they feed him in his room. I also know that he is alergiket to apples. I push him around at resses in his big cart, I swing with him, I talk to him when he is sad and when he is happy. Josh has been sick, but I hope he gets beeter. I have two other friends and they like him to. I am so glad that he is geting that dog.

P.S. Please wright back how Josh is doing if you want.

As promised, Whitley sent several more donations. Her contribution so far has been five dollars. Whitley is frustrated that she hasn't been able to give more, but she's excited that she'll be getting more money soon. If she makes the "A" honor roll, she says she'll get $20.

She says she's really working hard. She wants to give all of that money to Josh.

"Josh is a nice guy," she says. "People should help him out. Just because he can't do much doesn't mean he's not important."

Donations add up

Many people in the Jackson and Cape Girardeau area shared Whitley's sentiments, and some were able to donate much more. Last Saturday night, Ghiz family friend Mary Miller was disappointed that only about 25 people showed up for Josh's benefit dinner and auction, which had been advertised for a couple of weeks. She was upset that auctioneers Bob and Claueda Barks had donated their time and services and so few came out to bid.

Most of the 25 or so people were from Racine's church. The Ghiz family and their friends will be eating leftover hot dogs and chili for months.

But despite the low numbers, the results were outstanding.

One Marble Hill couple read about the fund-raising effort in the paper and attended the auction. They bought more than $300 worth of items and then made a $1,000 donation. All told, Saturday night's auction brought in $1,900.

The good news kept coming. By Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, donors had given $5,035 to the newspaper alone.

About a month ago, Racine and her friends from the church set a goal of $5,000 to $6,000.

As of Wednesday morning, four weeks after the campaign began, residents and businesses of Southeast Missouri dipped into their pockets for $9,781.

Racine, the Little Mom that Could, always had faith that God would provide enough money to get Crissy. She was blown away that about $4,000 is left over to go toward Josh's medical bills.

Giving thanks

On Thanksgiving Day, the Ghiz family had much to be thankful for.

More than a year ago, they moved from Utah into a community they knew nothing about. Now they live in one they never want to leave. They now have enough money to buy their special son a special companion, one that can be by Josh's side 24 hours a day.

They have three healthy, vibrant daughters.

The Ghiz family didn't plan a big Thanksgiving meal. Instead, Alex, Racine and the rest of the family headed down to the Salvation Army and served meals to the needy.

It was a small way to give back.

Monday morning, Racine, Josh, the girls and Racine's sister will head to Kansas City for a week's training with the newest member of the family.

Beginning Monday, Josh will be able to feel his friend's fur. He'll have a buddy to pick up his toys, to nuzzle him, to sleep with him and watch over him. He'll have a constant reminder that there is a world outside his mind that cares very much about him.

And who knows, maybe Josh will begin to understand just how important he is.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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