The eighth-grade choir started the assembly off by singing a sweet rendition of “Rainbow Connection,” the song made famous by Kermit the Frog in “The Muppet Movie” (1979). It was a nice way to start what would prove to be an emotionally charged Parkrose Middle School gathering on Nov. 9. In attendance, in addition to the entire school, were some unusual visitors.
The Sparrows had descended on Parkrose.
Sparrow Clubs U.S.A. is an organization that aims to help sick kids while also instilling important character traits in the healthier kids around them. The way it works is a sick child who needs financial assistance in their fight against disease gets that help through a sponsorship. But the sponsorship dollars are only activated if they’re “matched” by pledged hours of community service.
“I have the best job in the whole world,” said Laura Queen to open her remarks before describing Sparrow Clubs to the audience—something that at least half of them already surely knew from past years.
“Compassion and connection are the two words I’m going to use a lot today,” said Queen. “You have a chance to feel the connection to compassion and what it’s like to care about other people. You have a chance to feel a connection today to a little boy who desperately needs your help.”
Queen was a teacher in the Parkrose school district for 30 years and was the Sparrow Advisor there for 10 years before joining Sparrow Clubs full time in 2016 to bring the message of compassion and connection to other schools.
The students in the school that “adopts” one of the Sparrows learn about character and compassion while also gaining a real connection and genuinely helping a family in need. For every hour of community service that the students of Parkrose Middle School do, the sponsor (a charity called Because of Ben) donates $10 to the family of the adopted Sparrow. Because of Ben has been sponsoring Sparrows for six years, and several former Sparrows attended the ceremony, sitting next to each other in the front of the auditorium. Some were still close to Carson’s age and still fighting their own illnesses; others were grown and had successfully won their battles.
In one of the most poignant moments of an afternoon full of them, the father of a former Sparrow named Cameron, who had passed away, was in attendance and stood to greet the audience along with all the other Sparrows. It was a moment thick with triumph, despite the tragedy underlying it.
Parkrose Middle School has had Sparrows for 10 years, longer than any other school in Portland. Carson Kile is the newest member of that brave club. A spirited and friendly little boy of only three years old, Carson is battling stage four neuroblastoma. The cancer, which starts in early nerve cells in the fetus, occurs mostly in infants and toddlers. Neither Carson nor his parents, Tim and Julie, had any idea anything was wrong until July of this year, when Carson was suffering extreme bouts of pain and multiple trips to the hospital. Only then did doctors diagnose the child with cancer, finding a tumor that had completely wrapped around his abdomen. The aggressive and spreading cancer must be fought with chemotherapy (of which Carson has already battled his way through two rounds) and stem cell replacement.
“My best friend of 25 years knew about Sparrow Clubs because of the school her kids go to,” says Julie of how she got connected with Sparrow Clubs. “So, she tried to surprise us and applied for Carson to be a Sparrow, and that’s when we met Laura.”
The costs of treatment are staggering, exacerbated by Tim having to leave his job at Dave’s Killer Bread to care for Carson full time. Sparrow Clubs is just one way in which the Kiles are trying to fight cancer and give Carson a shot at a full life. They also have GoFundMe campaign to raise some additional funds.
“With the team around us there and all the support we have around us here,” says Julie, “I knew that if anyone could fight through it, it’s him.”
Carson just completed the fifth of six rounds of chemo and has surgery and recuperation ahead of him before more treatment. Laura Queen spoke to the students in attendance about the idea of compassion and trying to imagine even for a second what it’s like to have Carson’s fight in front of them.
“Sometimes we forget what other people are going through,” said Queen, often choking back tears when trying to describe Carson and his parents and everything they’re going through. She then introduced Carson to the students, who gave him a warm welcome, and Julie Kile took the stage to thank the students, trying to reach out to them as well and show them that anyone can be a fighter.
“We want him to know that you can be brave and strong even when you don’t feel well,” Julie said in her brief remarks to the students before thanking the audience, who cheered her on voraciously, the former Sparrows sitting in the front row cheering loudest of all. Queen then retook the stage and left the students in attendance with a challenge.
“I’m going to ask you to stand if you’re willing to give Carson one hour of your life this year. That’s all I’m asking,” said Queen to the students in attendance.
After she counted to three, every student in the auditorium quietly stood up.