Sixth-grader raises money to help friend in need

Photo By Rick Harris
Savannah Wiley, a sixth-grader at Central Elementary School, stands with classmate Monica Simerly (front). The two raised money for Chelsie Shaffer, who was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

By Julie Fann
star staff

  She may seem like just a regular kid, but Savannah Wiley has the heart of a leader. She already understands that solutions to life's problems won't occur unless she takes action.
  And that's just what she did not long after her best friend and Central Elementary School sixth grade classmate, Chelsie Shaffer, was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor at the beginning of the academic year. "I saw a can set up (for donations) for her at Flick Video, and I thought, 'well, I can do that here' (at school)," she said Friday.
  In just three days, Savannah and her helper and friend, Monica Simerly, raised $1,926 for Chelsie, who has been hospitalized at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis for the past two months. Chelsie has undergone three surgeries and is currently receiving radiation treatment.
  Carrying a simple cigar box from student to student and class to class, Wiley and Simerly collected $726 from faculty, students and parents; $200 from the Football Youth Club, and employees of Dillard Smith contributed a large sum of $1,000.
  "This school may be small in numbers, but we're large of heart," said Penny Nave, Savannah's teacher. "Every time something like this has happened, they come together for families in need. But it's usually an adult, a teacher, who gets it started - not a student. Savannah is a good student and very caring."
  Nave said she and Chelsie's classmates noticed something was wrong with Chelsie when the size of her handwriting changed from smaller to much larger letters on the same page. Yet Chelsie thought all of the letters were the same size. "She also began having headaches, and that week her parents took her to the doctor and they did a CAT scan and found it right away," Nave said.
  Savannah said this is the first time she has had to deal with the serious illness of a friend or family member. "It scares me a lot. She has a cell phone so I get to call her. She actually called me the other day so she must be doing good," she said.
  Savannah plans to visit Chelsie in Memphis the first weekend of November, and she has made identical bracelets for herself and her friend that they are wearing. She said Chelsie's mother was surprised to receive the money for medical bills. "When we gave her the money she was overwhelmed. She's having a really hard time. She loves me," Savannah said.
  Savannah at first blamed herself for her friend's illness. "It really took a toll on her for the first couple of weeks because they were such good friends last year. She thought maybe it was because they got in an argument last year," Nave said.
  Nave hopes to set up a fund for Chelsie at Citizen's Bank in Elizabethton, and members of Chelsie and Savannah's class and their families are taking turns visiting her at St. Jude's.