High School Builds Community with Superman Dog Tags
By: Amy Wilson
While Willowbrook High School, located in Villa Park, Illinois, is no stranger to the usual fundraising bake sales, they took a different approach to raising money while helping one of their favorite teachers, Eastman Tiu. Tiu is commemorating, what he calls, his "half-life" -- an event that marks the day where has spent the same amount of time being able-bodied as he has spent using his wheelchair.
In 1991, Tiu was skiing when he was injured, now living with paralysis as a result. Tiu wanted to memorialize his half-life by donating to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. He wanted to do this because he and Christopher Reeve were injured around the same time and has always felt a connection with him.
"When I heard about Christopher Reeve," says Tiu, "I was still basically newly injured, and it was interesting to see this famous person and suddenly find that you have something in common with them. Ever since hearing about his injury, I have just felt a commonality with Reeve."
Because of the rapport that Tiu felt with Christopher Reeve, he originally bought Superman dog tags for himself (with 100% of the proceeds going towards the Foundation). "I bought some dog tags for myself, my wife, and my brother for Christmas ten years ago," says Tiu, "and I used them as a stocking stuffer. Since then it's always been around my I.D. lanyard."
An emblem for every day
Because the dog tags meant so much to Tiu it seemed obvious to use them as a fundraiser. Tiu decided it would be nice to have the whole school involved; so he approached Cristy Hebreard, the head of the school's spirit club, The Blue Crew. "I told her my idea," says Tiu, "and she loved it, and pretty much ran with it."
Hebreard decided that Tiu should present his story to The Blue Crew, to explain why he wanted to do this. "In a room full of one hundred teenagers," remembers Hebreard, "you could hear a pin drop. It was just a moving, moving speech by him."
In an amazing show of support, the entire school rallied around this fundraiser. "We had 500 units of the dog tags and we sold half of them in under 48 hours," says Tiu.
When Tiu saw his students and the faculty walking around wearing the dog tags, he was thrilled. "I've been working at this school for 12 years," explains Tiu. "I've always felt like part of the community, but it's just really nice to see people wearing the dog tags. It's just a really nice outwardly show of support."
Raising hope while raising money
"I think it has brought the school closer together," says Tiu. "Kids might see someone they don't really know wearing a dog tag, and then all of sudden they have a link they might not had known existed before." Hebreard agrees, "I think it's created a real community atmosphere."
The dog tags, which originally meant a lot to Tiu, now seem to be taking on a new meaning with the people in his community.
"We wanted people to know that the whole message of ‘Go Forward' is not just for people with spinal cord injuries," explains Tiu. "It's for anyone who is going through a tough time in their life. We wanted the kids to know that, by giving someone a dog tag, they were telling them they are a hero to you."
While the dog tags have helped raise money for spinal cord research, and have allowed the community to express the appreciation they feel for the people in their lives, it has also has been beneficial in other ways. Hebreard says, "This event just goes to show that teenagers can really step up, when they want to, and do great things."
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