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Birthday boy chooses to give rather than get

Elmira-resident Aaron Spurgeon celebrated his ninth birthday last Saturday at the Drayton arena, and like most parties, this one had chips, pretzels, cake and lots of friends, but there was one important difference. “No presents,” Aaron said with an enormous grin while sitting at his kitchen table and surrounded by birthday cards. “I asked for a donation for Kate instead.”
The Kate he is referring to is Kate Meissner, a 21-month old Elmira girl who was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome, or AS, last summer. AS is a neurogenetic disorder that affects one in 15,000 people. “Angels” as they are sometimes called, can have little or no verbal skills, poor gross and fine motor skills, and possible seizure and sleep disorders.

However, Angels do have a unique characteristic – they have a happy, pleasant demeanor to go along with a wonderful smile and contagious laughter.

GIVING BACK Elmira-resident Aaron Spurgeon holds up one of the birthday cards he received at his ninth birthday party on Mar. 26. This year he chose to collect funds for Kate’s Kause instead of asking for presents, and he raised more than $400.

Kate is the inspiration behind Kate’s Kause, a charity that was started by her parents Kelly and Jeremy aimed at raising $150,000 to build an accessible playground in Woolwich. Aaron collected more than $400 for the cause by putting out a glass jar with a picture of Kate on it at the party, and letting parents know they were welcome to make donations.

Aaron first learned about Kate through the local newspapers, and decided that he wanted to help. When the time came to plan for his birthday, he wanted to invite his friends from his Grade 3 class at St. Teresa school, his hockey team, and his football team, but when the list grew to 51 kids, his mother Barb laid out one rule.

“I told him that there was no way we were having 51 presents,” she said with a laugh.

Aaron then asked for money instead, and Barb initially said no to that request as well, thinking he was going to use it for a trip to Vancouver, but when Aaron said he wanted to use the money to buy a swing for the playground for Kate, his mother agreed – much to the surprise of the Meissner family.

“We were just floored by the generosity,” said Kelly Meissner, Kate’s mother. “What it really does for us is it lets us know that we’re not alone in this severe diagnosis and that there are people out there who are behind us and very supportive and willing to make sure Kate has the best life she possibly can.”

In less than six months the family has managed to raise more than $50,000, or about one-third of the cost of the playground. On Mar. 5 the family held a benefit dance that raised $12,000 for the cause. They are now planning a golf tournament for July 11 at the Elmira
Golf and Country Club.

For Aaron, the desire to help those who are less fortunate has been cultivated in him from an early age. His mother works with disabled adults at the Elmira District Community Living centre on Barnswallow Drive in Elmira, and Aaron said he will be raising money for Kate at his next birthday party, and donating the money to either the playground fund, or if the fund is complete by then, to any medical costs or other needs that she may have.

And for Kelly Meissner, the donation the family received from Aaron has only reaffirmed her belief in the human spirit, she said, adding that the money will almost certainly go towards getting a swing for the playground.

“It’s amazing how these strangers have totally opened up to us, and now we just feel so exhilarated and honoured.

“It’s so wonderful. He’s a great kid.”

For more information on Kate’s Kause visit their website, www.kateskause.com.

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