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Community supports young patient

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Fundraiser: Students lead efforts for Brianna Engleman

By Arin McKenna

Six-year-old Brianna Engleman’s struggle with epilepsy and major surgery has touched many in the Los Alamos community, and the community has rallied in support.

Efforts began at Aspen Mesa Elementary when Brianna’s seizures started becoming severe. Her first grade teacher, Sharon Allen, asked to have someone on hand to aid Brianna in the classroom, but no funding was available. So the teachers worked together to find a solution.

For two and a half weeks before Brianna left for surgery, fifth graders alternated being Brianna’s “buddy” every half hour. The buddies helped her with the classwork if she was up to it, or took her for a walk or worked with her on the computer when she was not.

“Since then, it’s just blossomed,” Allen said. “It’s become a greater mission for both the kids and staff. This has made a tremendous impact on so many people.”

Engleman’s classmates fill envelopes with cards and notes for Brianna, which Allen sends twice a week. “When those packets arrive, Brianna gets this big smile on her face,” said Brianna’s mother, Krista Engleman.

Allen’s students and others in the school inquire about Brianna daily. Allen keeps them informed from updates Engleman posts at carepages.com/carepages/Bri-Update.

Allen has also organized an effort to bring dinner every other day to members of the Engleman family remaining in Los Alamos. “Sharon has been instrumental in thinking about what needed to be done and seeing that it happened. I was walking around in a daze,” Engleman said.

An effort to collect money to help with Brianna’s medical bills began with Allen’s class, but has since become the mission of Los Alamos High School students.

High school students first became aware of Brianna’s condition last year, when Lynn Ovaska was teaching a section on epilepsy in her psychology class. Brianna’s older sister Taylor – who has since graduated – was in the class and spoke about her sister’s condition. When the students learned that Brianna needed surgery, they raised $125 in an impromptu collection.

“I would never wish this on someone, but it’s powerful for students to see how something they’ve learned affects someone in real life,” Ovaska said. “One of the most impressive things I’ve seen is their willingness to give.”

Efforts to help Brianna and her family have caught on like wildfire.

Key Club member Jodi Cull-Host worked with her Advanced Placement (AP) Literature teacher, Catherine Puranananda, to start a fund called “Friends and Teachers of Taylor Engleman.” Many of the AP students were former classmates of Taylor. The fund raised nearly $700.

The Key Club – an offshoot of Kiwanis International – is also working with volunteers from the National Honors Society, Natural Helpers and the Student Council to sponsor a fundraising dinner the end of January.

“The dinner is near and dear to our hearts because Taylor, Brianna’s older sister, was in Key Club and is a good friend,” said Elizabeth Brug, Key Club President. No date has been set yet.

Besides working with Key Club, the Student Council is getting involved in other ways. They raised $600 by donating 10 percent of all Homecoming ticket sales. They are also becoming “Secret Santa’s” to the family.

“The Student Council decided to give the Englemans presents that we hope will help them enjoy the holidays as much as possible,” said Nasim Andrews, committee chair for this project. Andrews plans to contact Krista for help with choosing gifts for each family member. The student council is also making one large basket for the family, and is encouraging individual classes to make baskets as well. “Our goal is to make sure that the Englemans have a wonderful Christmas, and they know that as a student body we are thinking of them.”

Fundraising efforts are branching throughout the schools. Mountain Elementary students raised money from a carnival. Families of Brianna’s older brother Haiden’s second grade class contributed a lump sum as well.
Lynn Higdon helped create an “informed mom’s group.”

“We’re making sure we’re all unified in our efforts. We’re finding ways we can fundraise together,” Higdon said.

The group is working with students involved in fundraising efforts. One idea generated was placing collection cans around town. The Key Club volunteered to decorate the cans, which should be in businesses this week. The group is also planning an inside yard sale and craft fair in February.

Individual students are also finding ways to contribute. When Jane Duan, Irene Gerrish, Caitlin Dahl, and Matt Tickner provided music for the Del Norte Credit Union reopening celebration, they decided to donate the $200 the bank was paying them. They asked Del Norte to donate the money directly to the fund at Los Alamos School’s Credit Union. When Del Norte learned what the students were doing, they donated an additional $300. Duan shared the story at the opening and raised an additional $200.

“I’m just so moved that our community would do this for us,” Engleman said.

To donate to the Brianna Engleman fund, contact the Los Alamos School’s Credit Union.