East York Elementary is Ayden strong

Alyssa Jackson
  • East York Elementary hosted a coin drive from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9 to raise money for Ayden Zeigler-Kohler.
  • The fourth-grader was diagnosed with brain cancer in late August.
  • The money from the coin drive helped the district purchase one of Ayden's wish-list items: a chinchilla.

Ayden Zeigler-Kohler told school counselor Eary Coombs that he always knew he was loved, but he never knew just how many people loved him until now.

East York Elementary School has been rallying behind their fellow classmate for the last two weeks with a coin drive. The 9-year-old was diagnosed with brain cancer in late August after he collapsed at football practice, and Coombs said the community and students immediately started reaching out to the district to see how they could help.

East York Elementary Principal Denise Fuhrman said this sparked a meeting of the Incident Command Team at the school. The team meets any time there is a situation or tragedy with a student or staff member and works out solutions. The team, made up of 10 people including Coombs, Fuhrman and the school's math specialist, Laura McClure, decided a coin drive was a great way to get kids and parents involved.

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The school wasn't comfortable releasing how much money was raised in the coin drive, but the group did say they had raised 107.2 pounds worth of coins for Ayden, more than he weighs. With some of the collection money, Coombs met with Ayden and his father, Bill Kohler, and asked them what one of his wish-list items was so that the district could purchase it. Ayden mentioned a puppy and a ferret, both of which Kohler said no to for practical reasons. Finally, the three settled on a chinchilla.

East York Elementary School counselor Eary Coombs, left, and math specialist Laura McClure empty out the collection house on the last day of the coin drive for student Ayden Zeigler-Kohler, a fourth-grader in the school who has brain cancer, on September 9, 2016.

Wade the chinchilla: Coombs, who is the liaison for the family and the school, said Ayden had already told her about the family's other chinchilla, who really bonded with his sister and became hers. Since then, Ayden has wanted his own chinchilla to bond and play with. A gift card was purchased for Ayden, who promptly went and picked out his new friend, Wade the chinchilla.

McClure said it was touching to see the kids come in to school each day and put their coins into the collection house, a model house with a bucket inside that is used for many of the coin drives the elementary school hosts. This time, the house was clad with stickers that said "Ayden Strong." It was clear that many of the kids had emptied their piggy banks for the cause, and Fuhrman added that a number of students went door to door and asked for change from their neighbors.

"It's not surprising because of the community feel and family feel here," McClure said.

The staff of East York Elementary also has been donating to the cause through the family's GoFundMe page. McClure said that more than $1,000 had been raised by the school alone.

School counselor Eary Coombs, left, and math specialist Laura McClure empty coins collected for Ayden Zeigler-Kohler into a bucket to be weighed on September 9, 2016.

Coombs said many parents and community members are still reaching out to the school to ask if they can send donations in the coming weeks, even though the coin drive has ended. The school will ensure that all money sent goes to Ayden. With the leftover money from the coin drive and the donations that they'll receive in the coming weeks, Coombs plans to purchase another item on Ayden's wish list, but she isn't sure what it is yet.

"It's important to us that we can make his wishes and dreams come true right now," she said.