Student-run charity fundraises for injured young athletes

It could have happened to anyone. But this particular time, it happened to Kasey Harvey, a seventh-grader at the time. Then a soccer player, Harvey was forced to drop the sport after being diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a type of malignant cancer that targets soft muscle tissue, connective tissue, and bone.

She was lucky to have supportive classmates who came to her aid, raising funds for her cancer treatment and helping her back on her feet. Among those classmates was Jake Welton (10).

“I knew her just from being in the same class,” Welton said. “We sat at the same table before she left. I didn’t know her super well, I had just met her and I’d just heard about it and was like, ‘That’s terrible.’ It was one of those things where one week she’s there and the next week she’s not there.”

Welton, inspired by the experience, began to create a nonprofit organization run completely by students called Support Young Athletes.

The charity is designed to raise money to donate to young athletes who have been sidelined by injury or illness. This money goes toward paying for the athletes’ treatments or surgeries.

The charity’s conception began in August 2016, when Welton gathered his friends to help create it. By December they went through the legal processes to recognize Support Young Athletes as an official 501(c)(3) charity—a nonprofit organization that cannot be taxed—and elected an executive board.

By January, Support Young Athletes was officially recognized by the state as a nonprofit organization, and the board set to work on raising money for its first donation.

“It took a while, just because bureaucracy takes a long time, but it wasn’t super hard,” Welton said. “Once we got the idea rolling and we came up with our main goals and elected board members, we just waited for official recognition. [It] took a little bit longer than expected to find somebody [to donate to], because we were just starting out, but once we found someone, everything got a little bit easier.”

The charity’s board is comprised of 21 members, including three parents and 18 students between sixth and 12th grade, all of whom help organize fundraisers and search for young athletes who have been prevented from doing what they enjoy because of an injury or ailment and who would benefit from a donation to help pay for treatment.

Recently, Support Young Athletes began to work with Pukka Pilates and Physical Therapy to raise funds for their donations.

“[The owner of Pukka Pilates] said she’d help run this fundraiser,” Welton said. “So you signed up for this class, they taught you how to use a foam roller for stretching and yoga and stuff like that, and you’d pay the entrance fee and then you’d get entered into a raffle, and you could donate to.”

Hosting two fundraisers at two locations in Torrey Highlands and Scripps Ranch and collecting the money that Pukka raised through the course and raffle, Support Young Athletes raised $2300, which Welton said ideally would go toward helping four athletes.

“We want to help as many people as we can,” Welton said. “We’d love to donate a lot more, but we agreed that because we’re relatively small right now and we can’t give too much but we still want to help, that we put a limit at $550 per donation.”

By the end of his time at Westview, Welton said he hopes to have helped dozens of athletes through these donations. He said that by hosting fundraisers twice a year, Support Young Athletes should be able to help more than 20 athletes by the end of his senior year.

The first in this list of recipients was a 10-year-old gymnast named Rileigh.

“[Rileigh] was an elite-level gymnast,” Welton said. “She came down with a genetic disease in her hip, where the ball of the femur meets the hip and creates that joint, the blood gets cut off and it starts to die, and so if that dies, you can’t walk, you can’t run, you can’t do a lot of stuff.”

Support Young Athletes first discovered Rileigh after the mother of a student on the board, who knew about Rileigh’s situation, suggested her as the first recipient of the charity’s donation so as to help Support Young Athletes get off to a strong start. Rileigh’s family’s insurance company couldn’t cover the disease due to its genetic factor, making Rileigh and ideal candidate for Support Young Athletes.

On Sept. 16, Welton and the other board members drove to Rileigh’s gym in Temecula to present her with their $500 donation. The money would go towards a surgery that would remove most of the dead tissue from Rileigh’s hip, allowing the tissue to regrow. By December, Rileigh’s doctors hope that she will be able to walk unassisted again and, eventually, return to gymnastics.

Welton said that Rileigh and her family were thrilled to have the donation made and impressed by all that Support Young Athletes had accomplished as a charity solely operated by students.

“Everyone we’ve talked to about our charity is always surprised that it’s a charity only run by kids, and so they [Rileigh’s parents] were impressed by that,” he said. “They were very grateful that we found them and gave them the money, and they were also surprised and happy that she was going to be the frist person we ever donated to. In the future, on hopefully a very long list of people we donate to, she’ll be the first person there.”

But while it felt good to be helping a young athlete toward recovery, the moment was bittersweet.

“It felt good knowing that you’re helping somebody, but it was also sad because someone who’s only 10 years old is dealing with something most of us will never deal with or only deal with a long way down the road,” he said. “It’s sad because that shouldn’t happen.”

But by helping pay for Rileigh’s surgery and assisting in her recovery, Welton has found satisfaction in giving hope to someone in need of it.

“She was very grateful that we were able to help her and she was excited to have a chance to go back to doing gymnastics,” Welton said. “She’s excited that with the money, she can pay for the surgery, and she hopefully can get back to running and doing all sorts of flips.”