Posted by Stephen Mau on Jan 08, 2016

The La Crescent Rotary Club hopes an evening of musical performance will make the school experience for a handful of students that much better.

Rotarian Steve Mau, along with La Crescent-Hokah Elementary School special education teacher Jesse Stoikes and student Addison Tarrence, spoke to the La Crescent-Hokah School Board Oct. 21 about an event the Rotary is organizing to raise money for equipment that will help Addison and others at the school.

Because of a partnership the Rotary has formed with the school this year to raise money for special needs students, the civic group is hosting the La Crescent Rotary Music Spectacular at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, at the high school fine arts center. The event will feature local talent from La Crescent, with the Holmen Midwest Express and Midwest Majestic show choirs headlining the evening.

Proceeds from the show will be split 70-30, with the larger portion given to the special education department to purchase what’s known as a HOPSA dress and other needed equipment, and the rest going back to the Rotary Club to support its various projects. Tickets are $10, and Mau said the minimum goal is to bring in $4,000 which, after expenses, would leave $2,550 in profit.

The idea is to use that money to purchase the HOPSA dress, a device used primarily to help children, unable to stand on their own due to weak lower extremities, remain upright without the need to use their hands to steady themselves.

Addison, a third-grader who was at the meeting representing the dozen or so students who could physically benefit from the device, addressed the board. She’s already used the device, as the school has been able to periodically borrow Holmen’s to get a feel for what the possibilities are.

“I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA,” Addison read from a prepared letter. “SMA makes it hard for me to walk, run, jump and get up. It makes my legs weak.”

Because of Addison’s desire to have a HOPSA dress at the school all the time, but knowing the nearly $1,000 dress isn’t considered a necessity, Stoikes approached the Rotary Club for help. He said the most important thing for his student population is freedom and the ability to make their own choices.

Stoikes shared a story from one of the first times Addison used the dress. He asked her to play catch with a ball, which she agreed to. The first time he threw it, Addison’s natural reaction was to use her hands to balance herself – not make the catch. That happened a few times, but finally, Addison trusted the device to hold her. She caught the ball.

“The look on this little girl’s face was, ‘I can do it,’” said Stoikes, who was visibly emotional.

But the dress isn’t just for students with physical needs. He said those with autism, ADHD and other sensory needs could benefit from it; even non-special education students have tried it. It’s also portable and can be attached to a swing set on the playground because it’s connected by a climber’s hook.

But the plan isn’t to stop once the HOPSA dress is purchased. Mau has been working with elementary school staff to look at other accommodations that could benefit special needs students on the playground. Right now, the swings and other play equipment are surrounded by rubber chips – not easy material to navigate a wheelchair through.

“I noticed (Addison) didn’t want to go outside, so I asked, “Why aren’t you going outside? The weather is beautiful.’” Stoikes said. “Her response was, ‘What would I do?’ You got me there. Unless you’re on the blacktop, if you’re in a wheelchair, it’s hard to get anywhere.”

The hope is to eventually purchase a “giant oval” both students with disabilities and able-bodied students can climb aboard to spin and bounce on. Money is also needed for mats for chairs to roll on to access the equipment. It’s unlikely the January event will raise enough to purchase the outdoor equipment, but Mau said the Rotary can consider other avenues to raise money for that.

Stoikes said the HOPSA dress for Addison is a gateway to social interaction with her classmates, which is a way the general population also benefits from the device. It’s a good week when she gets to use the dress.

“You can sense a change in the air in the classroom when it’s there,” he said. “All the kids want to do it and all the kids know it’s coming.”

It’s coming, and it’s going to be spectacular.

That’s the hope for the first-ever La Crescent Music Extravaganza, sponsored by the La Crescent Rotary Club, which will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday night at the La Crescent High School Fine Arts Center.

Although at least one Coulee Region show choir from Holmen, Wis., will be performing, event organizer Steve Mau said it’s meant to be entertainment for a good cause.

A large portion of the revenue from the event will go to purchase much-needed special needs equipment for La Crescent-Hokah Elementary School, said Mau, chair of event and a La Crescent Rotarian.

A letter from third-grader Addison Tarrence to the local Rotary Club spurred the event. Tarrence, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, asked for help in purchasing a HOPSA dress – a device used primarily to help children unable to stand on their own remain upright without the need to use their hands to steady themselves.

Tarrence wasn’t the only one looking for help. Those in the elementary’s special education department, championed by teacher Jesse Stoikes, have asked the district’s school board for outside playground equipment for those with special needs.

A chance discussion about show choir invitationals led Mau to think about a music extravaganza, one which has taken many collaborators and a lot of preparation. Then, at a school board meeting in October, several people gave a presentation about the need for outdoor equipment.

“All the sudden, we can expand the whole production,” Mau said.

Proceeds from the show will be split 70-30, with the larger portion given to the special education department to purchase the HOPSA dress (estimated at $1,100) and other needed equipment, and the rest going back to the Rotary Club to support its various projects. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door, and Mau has said the goal is to bring in at least $4,000 which, after expenses, would leave $2,550 in profit.

“This is not a competition,” Mau said. “It’s simply a production, and it’s good preparation for these show choirs, who will be going into competition.”

Also performing will be La Crescent second-grader Mason Gates. His mother, Shelley, said she was contacted by La Crescent kindergarten teacher Casey Jorgenson about her son performing.

“I hope that it is a big fundraising success for a very worthy cause,” Gates wrote in an email. “My son, Mason, has been singing the National Anthem since about three years old at La Crescent events and around the Coulee Region. Casey was Mason’s kindergarten teacher, so she knows of his love for singing and she asked him to open the show with the National Anthem. He is excited to sing at the program and to help raise funds for accessible playground equipment for the elementary.”

Jorgenson, whose 11-year-old daughter, Tori, has cerebral palsy, said the equipment is long overdue.

“I know this from both sides,” Jorgenson said, both as an educator and a parent of a child with special needs. “We’re trying to have a successful event so that we can do a similar event for the middle school.”

Jorgenson believes it can happen, in large part, because awareness for the need will be raised.

“Once the awareness is there, people have kind hearts,” she said.


(Credit: Ryan Henry, Houston County News