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3 local schools raise money for 5th-grader with eye disease
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Brooklet Elementary School fifth-grader, Kai Owens, who was diagnosed in April with Retinitis Pigmentosa, received a check that will be used to purchase a computer with accessibility features for the visually impaired. The money was raised by the student councils of SEBHS and SHS and by Brooklet Elementary School for Kai, standing with his parents, Chris and Kim, and older brother Cash. - photo by JULIE LAVENDER/Special

A young man who chooses to wear a smile on his face every day, just below the glasses he has to wear every day, recently had an extra reason to smile.

Kai Owens, an 11-year-old Brooklet Elementary School student, was diagnosed in April with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that causes vision loss.

He recently received a $3,000 check from the student councils of Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro high schools, along with Brooklet Elementary School.

The fundraiser began at SEB. Each year, the student council chooses local organizations or people to assist through fundraising.

“The student council considers our school system a family, and family helps each other out in times of need,” said Tiffany Todd, a teacher and the adviser of SEB’s Student Council. “This year, the Student Council chose Kai Owens. Not only is he a student at (Brooklet Elementary), but his father is a teacher at Statesboro High School, and his brother, Cash, attends Southeast Bulloch High School.”

SEB’s Student Council devised the campaign, called “Costumes and Caps for Kai,” and students donated money, which allowed them to wear a costume or cap to school on Oct. 31. Todd contacted Joe Depenhart, the adviser for SHS’s Student Council, and he enthusiastically agreed to be included in the fundraiser.

Additionally, Brooklet Elementary used its annual Pumpkin Parade to raise money for Kai through donations.

When a local costume store heard about the fundraiser, the owner offered to donate a costume to Kai. On Halloween, Kai visited SEB and ate lunch with his brother, wearing the costume he chose from Party Impressions.

During lunch, costume-wearers gathered on the stage and took pictures with Kai, and students wrote inspiring messages to him on a bulletin board in the commons area.

To show his appreciation, Kai made a video in which he demonstrated his break-dancing and beat-boxing skills and talked about his love of Nerf wars. He ended the video with “a big thank you,” an enormous, contagious smile and a thumbs-up.

During the check presentation at SEB, all four members of the Owens family were visibly touched by the generosity of the three schools. With a few tears and lots of hugs, smiles and gratitude, the family accepted the donation.

On Kai’s CaringBridge website, his mother, Kim, wrote of the event: “Who but God could orchestrate that on a day that had been strife with battle, we would be surrounded by loved ones presenting Kai with a fundraiser check totaling $3,000? Representing over 3,000 times that people have sacrificed, prayed and thought of our son. What a blessing.”

She added that the gift will be used to purchase special glasses that Kai needs and a Mac computer with accessibility features for the visually impaired. And, per Kai’s request, the family will visit Hollywood Studios to see the Osborne Family Christmas Light Display.

“It’s an amazing sight and one that we want Kai to be able to see this year, so that it will be accessible in his mind’s eye for Christmases to come,” Kim Owens wrote.

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