Friends’ support for ill Wayne High School student means more for others

From left, New Tech Academy Director Any Oberlin, Leslie Alter, Reagan Swinford and Kara Gerber presented a check to the Ronald McDonald House at Parkview Regional Medical Center on Thursday. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

She always knew she had very good friends, but Reagan Swinford never knew how many until she showed up for school Thursday at Wayne High School’s New Tech Academy. Then she saw hundreds of students wearing light blue and red “Fight Like a Girl” T-shirts to commemorate her fourth fight against neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects about 700 children in the United States each year.

Along with New Tech Academy Director Amy Oberlin, senior Leslie Alter and junior Kara Gerber designed the T-shirts as a way to support Swinford this fall as she underwent treatments at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. They also opened a website and encouraged students to send Swinford messages and pictures of themselves wearing the shirts which say “Reagan Strong” on the back.

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“We wanted to find a way to support her in a way that didn’t make her feel uncomfortable,” Alter said. “We knew how important it was to her to still be Reagan and still be herself and not have this be what people think about her. We came up with the shirts to show our support from afar and it was our way of being there for her without being there.”

With the proceeds from the T-shirts sales, the trio and Swinford presented checks worth $1,252 to the Fort Wayne Community Schools Clothing Bank and to the Ronald McDonald House at Parkview Regional Medical Center on Thursday afternoon.

“When we first sold them, it was just to New Tech, but we kept getting other people in the community asking if they could buy one or do this,” Gerber said. “At first it was just a way for New Tech to show their support, but that’s when we realized this was going to turn into something bigger. That’s when we opened it up for the second time.”

Approximately 400 T-shirts were sold, and there were other donations to bring the funds total to $3,300. The first $750 was given to the Swinford family to help with expenses, and Reagan chose the clothing bank and Ronald McDonald House. She chose the Ronald McDonald House because her family has used the one in Indianapolis. Ronald McDonald House representatives told the group that a family can stay in the house for a month on $1,000 and the $250 will stock the organization’s comfort cart for a month.

The group was surprised at how much money they were able to raise.

“I knew that they cared, but they took the extra step and showed me that they wanted to give me the gift because they couldn’t give it any other way,” Swinford said. “I get really bored in the hospital because between sleeping and watching TV, there’s not a lot you can do. When they sent me the emails, it was really awesome to see my friends because I didn’t get to see them that much. I didn’t know they were doing the T-shirts until they surprised me all at once and sent me the email with all the pictures. It came at a good time. I did need a boost.”

Swinford returned to school three weeks ago as she continues treatments.

“Young people get such a bad image in our society, and these young ladies have stepped up and showed what they are capable of if you give them the potential to do things,” Oberlin said. “I’m proud of them for supporting their peer, and I’m proud of her to say she’s going through a rough patch, but let me share the wealth with someone else. That’s a reflection of who these three are.

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