Students raise money for My Ashleah foundation

Christina Calloway

Portales Junior High School student leaders want to prove age is not a factor in raising money for something that they believe in.

Student body government members Bailey Rowley, Grant Wagner and Hannah Cabeldue raised money for local non-profit organization, My Ashleah, to purchase a billboard with a message that spoke to them.

“We’re not just kids,” Rowley said. “We can do more than (adults) think, we can step up and raise money, we can do anything we want. You don’t have to be 18 or older to raise money; you can still help the community by putting up billboards showing them what’s wrong and right.”

In October, school counselor Matthew Alvarado contacted the My Ashleah foundation to share its story during the school’s Red Ribbon Week, which focuses on drug and alcohol awareness and prevention.

Portales native Ashleah Richards was killed in a vehicle accident involving a drunken driver in October 2009 in Lubbock.

Richards’ family organized the foundation in Ashleah’s honor and they speak about her story as well as smart choices, and alcoholism at schools and other venues.

Alvarado said the students and teachers were engaged with their message.

“They talked to us about starting a campaign putting up billboards with their My Ashleah logo across the state,” Alvarado said. “So at the end of the assembly, I challenged our students to raise some money so we can sponsor a billboard here in Portales.”

The entire school participated in raising $881 over the course of about three months to purchase a My Ashleah billboard that reads, “I never made it home because someone chose to drink and drive.”

The billboard will be located by Wal-Mart but Alvarado says he does not know when My Ashleah plans to display it.

“It was a good way to get our kids engaged in something, take part, have some ownership in it and feel proud that they were able to contribute to the community,” Alvarado said. “(Ashleah’s) from Portales; she was a Ram just like how they are.”

The students said the story hit home for them because fellow student Peyton Chavez died last April due to a heart condition.

“It was the worst day of our lives,” Wagner said. “It was unexpected, it was too soon.”

Wagner said he feels the same about Ashleah’s untimely death and was touched by her story.

“Because of your actions, you can cause other people pain,” said Wagner about drinking and driving.

To raise funds, the students “bought out” sixth and seventh period for the afternoon.

Instead of having classes, students paid to participate in games and challenges like the ones portrayed in TV show, “Minute to Win it.”

Other fundraising venues at the school included pep rallies and assemblies.

The school presented My Ashleah foundation with the money on Valentine’s Day.

The student leaders said that their efforts went beyond raising money for My Ashleah. They also try to set an example for the other students.

“As officers, they look up to us,” Rowley said. “If we step up and say that’s not cool, hopefully they will follow in our steps.”

Rowley and Wagner agreed that their desire to lead was inspired by Chavez. They said Chavez was friends with everyone and his death brought students who were unlikely to be friends together.

“If Peyton loved him, I should love him too,” Rowley said. “His death affected all of the schools in the area.”

The school plans to renew the contract for the billboard annually, and the students plan to pass on this legacy.

“This could actually save lives,” Wagner said.