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Students raise money to help Shriners Hospital

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Courtesy: Dustin Blankenship Courtesy: Dustin Blankenship
Courtesy: Dustin Blankenship Courtesy: Dustin Blankenship

It all started with a super hero theme, some beads and 160 West Virginia high school sophomores who wanted to help out a children's hospital.

Ambassadors, including high schoolers, teachers and law students, met in Morgantown earlier this month for the West Virginia Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership annual seminar, where learned the value of entrepreneurialism in an unlikely way.

And the young entrepreneur inspired them so much that ambassadors raised more than $1,000 to help Shriners Hospital.

This year, the seminar's theme was super heroes, explained Dustin Blankenship, a WVU College of Law student and ambassador for the youth leadership.

"The idea was we were going to teach this year a concept of entrepreneurialism, service and self development," Blankenship said.

And Blankenship knew of the perfect organization.

Blankenship told members of a business endeavor, where an entrepreneur sold beaded bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry to give back to Shriners Hospital for Children.

"In one year, she raised more than $20,000 and donated it to Shriners," Blankenship said. "We were convinced we needed to book this person.

"We kind of kept her a secret. We kept her age a secret. We just had that we would have a Shriners Presentation. Then, she came in and she melted everyone's heart."

This young entrepreneur, 7-year-old Pennsylvania resident Emily Melish, created Beads 4 Needs after having surgeries at the children's hospital to correct the height difference in her legs.

Mellish, who was born with spina bifada and severe scoliosis, also must go through bi-annual surgeries to lengthen the rod in her back, her Beads 4 Needs Facebook page reads.

"By the age of 4, her left leg was nine inches shorter than her right leg," Blankenship said. "All the doctors wanted to amputate it and put her into a wheelchair. Well, she wound up in contact with Shriners and the doctors said they could save it.

"Now, at 7, she wears a four-inch boot instead of a nine-inch boot. They almost have it completely straightened out. She can even bend her leg, when she couldn't before."

Blankenship came into contact with Mellish in his previous work with Shriners.

"One of the things we wanted to use to point out is a lot of kids say they can't raise $1,000 next year and can't get the community behind a service idea," Blankenship said, noting ambassadors must do 100 hours of community service a year after the seminar. "It's important on multiple levels because here's a 7-year-old girl, who cared deeply about a charity and decided to do a fundraiser. And she did something that has raised $25,000 in a year."

And Blankenship said this inspired ambassadors to raise as much money as they could. A staff member made a $400 donation to provide bracelets to every ambassador. The West Virginia HOBY alumni association then gave a $200 donation.

Additionally, over the course of that weekend, kids raised $1,058 to donate to Shriners, which will go directly to providing care to children at no cost to their families.