Packers Empower program: Luxemburg girl raises money for a service dog to help a child
LUXEMBURG – Five years ago, Tristin Wipfli found the companion and assistance he needs with help from the community.
Now, Tristin's sister is working to return the favor as part of a leadership program sponsored by the Green Bay Packers.
Allie Wipfli, who recently finished sixth grade at Denmark Middle School, is raising money for a family of a child with special needs to obtain a service dog from 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio-based nonprofit organization that trains and places such dogs.
The project matters to Allie, Tristin and their mother, Jody Wipfli, because Tristin received his 4 Paws for Ability dog — Prince, a golden retriever — to help detect the frequent seizures he was experiencing at the time. Prince has become much more than a seizure alarm for Tristin and the Luxemburg family.
Tristin, a 14-year-old who attends Syble Hopp School in De Pere, was born with schizencephaly, a rare congenital disorder (an estimated one of every 64,935 births, according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center) in which abnormal clefts form in the brain before birth. No definite causes are known, although a possible cause might be the fetus having a stroke in utero, which Jody said her doctors think happened to Tristin.
Schizencephaly can result in a number of different prognoses, depending on the size of the clefts. In Tristin's case, he dealt with uncontrolled, epileptic-type seizures. That caused worry and stress for the family, especially Allie, who "… felt she had to be by his side all the time," Jody said.
That's why the Wipflis sought help and found it with 4 Paws. The dogs from 4 Paws are trained from birth for clients with specific needs, from sensing impending low blood sugars in diabetics to behavior interventions and more, and the organization also trains dogs to work with Alzheimer's patients and veterans who have mobility issues or hearing loss from combat.
"We got Prince five years ago because of the seizures, to try to alert us when (Tristin) was going to have one," Jody said. "It was a way to take stress off of Allie."
"We'd know an hour to two hours before it happened," Tristin said.
Tristin had surgery four years ago to resolve the seizures, a procedure that disconnected the right hemisphere of his brain. He hasn't had a seizure since, but he has a permanent weakness on the left side of his body that requires him to wear braces on his arm and leg.
Prince also was trained to assist Tristin physically. Jody said Prince can interrupt behaviors and help Tristin with mobility, which includes helping Tristin stand back up if he falls.
Not only that, Allie and Jody said Prince offers emotional support to Tristin, who's dealt with bullying because of the effects of schizencephaly.
"Tristin says he feels lucky to have a best friend to watch over him," Jody said.
Raising funds to empower others
There is a $17,000 fee to get a dog from 4 Paws, which says on its website the total cost of raising and training each dog is about $40,000. 4 Paws encourages families to work on fundraising campaigns in their communities to cover the fee and suggests various tools for that purpose.
Between donations and benefit events, the Wipflis were able to raise their $17,000. Now, based on their experience, Allie is working to help another family in a similar situation.
"I spent a lot of time in hospitals with Tristin," Allie said, "and saw a lot of kids with special needs. I thought it'd be a cool idea, having dogs for kids with special needs.
"Tristin has Prince. I feel like I should give back to some of the families who helped raise money for Tristin."
Allie's work is her project for Green Bay Packers Empower, an annual leadership event sponsored by the NFL team that brings 280 middle school students from Brown County and another 280 from Milwaukee County to Lambeau Field. Her goal is to either cover the full cost of a dog from 4 Paws or complete the 4 Paws fundraising effort for another family with a child who has special needs, she said.
Students write an essay explaining why they should be chosen for Empower.
"A lot of my essay was about my brother, and how I know what it's like to be a younger sister and an older sister at the same time," said Allie, who's two years younger than Tristin. "I wrote that if I was to be picked, I'd give back to the community, and the first thing that came to mind was Prince and 4 Paws for Ability."
The students spend a winter day with a keynote speaker and breakout sessions, then discuss possible community projects they could launch individually. They return in the spring to talk about the results to that point and how to continue.
"We went to different classes, and they talked about leadership skills, being kind and stuff," Allie said. "They talked a lot about what it's like to give back to people, what it's like to help people in need. The second part … I had to stand up in front of different schools and present what I did as my project."
The fundraising effort started with "penny wars" in Allie's school, a challenge for each sixth-grade classroom at Denmark to fill a jar with pennies or dollars, no silver coins. The challenge was so successful — raising more than $900 — that each room earned ice cream treats as a prize.
The next phase is a fundraiser now taking place online at crowdfunding site gofundme.com, under the name "Allie's Empower Project for 4 Paws for Ability." A GoFundMe campaign raised part of the $17,000 the Wipflis needed for Prince, and Jody helped set up the page for this effort to draw interest from potential donors from outside Northeast Wisconsin. One month in, the campaign has generated $350.
"Some people working for 4 Paws for Ability have seen the GoFundMe page and have reached out," Allie said.
Also as part of her project, Allie hopes to show people the benefits dogs like Prince provide to those who need special help. She brought Prince with her to give a presentation at her school and plans to continue that effort.
"I want to raise awareness for 4 Paws, for service dogs," Allie said, "how they're helpful for kids with special needs, veterans who need help. I'd like to go to other schools and do presentations like I did before."
To contribute to Allie Wipfli's project to raise funds for a service dog for a child with special needs, visit gofundme.com/allie039s-empower-project-for-4-paws-for-ability or search for "Allie's Empower Project" at gofundme.com.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Packers Empower program: Luxemburg girl raises money for a service dog to help a child