Pine River kids headed for Destination ImagiNation

It’s said that some people touch your heart and you are never the same. So it was for members of a Destination ImagiNation team from Pine River High School when they had to come up with an idea for the Project Outreach portion of this year’s competition.

The man who touched the hearts of not only the students but the wider community as well, was Cecil Burch. Burch died in October of pancreatic cancer.

One student said the man who coached cross country and track obviously loved working with kids, “and we just loved him back. We still do.”

The team made a decision they would dedicate the special Project Outreach they had to come up with in memory of Coach Cecil Burch, a reminder of his positive impact on their lives.

So it is that this particular team of tenth and eleventh graders will be moving on to regional competition Saturday at Muskegon, having already left a special mark on many other lives themselves, and many more to come. They organized a variety of fundraisers and then donated all of the money to Crossroads Radiation Therapy Center in Reed City, in the hopes that they can help others.

It was apparent by the reaction of patients in the Crossroads waiting room when they presented a check for $2,066 to the director, Irene Balowski, they already have. Through their hard work, and their gift, they offered hope for those witnessing the moment.

One lady working a puzzle that day last week when the students gathered at Crossroads to make the donation, stopped and watched, and a man sitting nearby who had asked what they were doing, then sat watching with tears in his eyes.

Kaitlyn Armstrong, Cuyler Huffman, Josh Ecker, Stepanie VanAvery and Jessica Santo and those they reached out to did that for the coach, and for others, and undoubtedly the youngsters will never forget the mission they had in helping others.

Neither will their Destination ImagiNation “coach” who can encourage their efforts but not provide the ideas. Some ideas along the way fail, but the students in the 11 teams at Pine River ranging from elementary school through high school, learn as much through their mistakes as they do from their victories. One student said, “maybe more.”

Coach Susan Stoll is proud of the efforts these particular teammates put in to raise enough money to provide a kitchen stove unit at Crossroads Radiation. They did a mini Relay for Life, as well as organize a talent show, a dance, made a quilt to raffle off, had classmates pay a quarter in order to wear a hat to school for a day, and had sunglasses day as well.

Christie Carlson of Spectrum Health, works with fund development and volunteer services, and noted that the kitchen unit will allow people going through cancer therapy to expand it into how to cook for that individual and their family as tastes change and needs must be met.

Together families will have access to new recipes, and an opportunity to have help creating foods that will help a family stay healthy.

Irene Balowski, head of the Crossroads program, had nothing but praise for the efforts of the teens, and assured them that their goal of helping others would truly do that.

So it is that this team and their coach will head off to Muskegon on Saturday for the next step in competition along with 10 other teams from the Pine River School District, and regardless of their placing there, they are already winners.

They had a coach who mattered and recognized he truly made a difference in their lives. Just five months later, they’ve truly passed it on. They have already found a way to make a difference, touch hearts, add hope. All they ask is that others do likewise.