When 700 middle school students cheered and moved to the music of “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style” as they piled into the gym at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park, it wasn’t your average school assembly.
The stars of the day were two boys: Amandus and Lucas Nikora. As they entered the gym Friday afternoon on their electric wheelchairs, the crowd roared.
Amandus, 12, is a student at Lakewood; his 10-year-old brother Lucas attends Sunset Ridge Elementary. They both have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic disorder that causes most people who have it to rely on a wheelchair by age 12, as thei muscles deteriorate.
Amandus and Lucas were diagnosed in 2007, just after moving to Kansas City from Michigan.
Back in October, Lakewood Principal Scott Currier challenged the school to help the Nikora family raise $10,000 to buy and install an electric lift in their van.
He’s seen Linda Nikora struggling with the manual fold-out ramp she brings every day when she drops Amandus off at school. Installing the lift isn’t a simple prospect either— it’s an eight-week process where the van will be taken apart in order to raise the roof and modify the doors.
It’s not easy to raise $10,000, especially when you’re not even old enough to drive. But the students of Lakewood, with some help from students at Pleasant Ridge Middle School, did it.
“We want to make his life easier on him, and the whole school really loves Amandus,” said Lakewood eighth-grader Alanah Winston, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign with classmates Lilly Hallock and Emma Sherwood.
Amandus himself came up with the idea for one of the more popular fundraising activities. For a $1 donation, students could use their phones all they wanted during lunchtime for one day. The students raised more than $900 with that effort, and a local resident put up a matching donation.
At Pleasant Ridge, the students don’t know Amandus, but he’ll be their classmate at Blue Valley West High School in a few years. They arranged a fundraiser at Barnes and Noble last semester, where they offered cookie decorating, a photo booth, gift wrapping, musical performances, babysitting, balloon animals and storytelling. At the assembly, they presented a check for $1,100.90.
Lakewood students held a penny war and raffles for throwing pies in teachers’ faces and playing in a student-faculty dodgeball match during the assembly. Amandus got the honor of hitting Currier with a pie — and did so with gusto.
Altogether, the students raised about $8,000 with their efforts, and local residents and businesses donated the remaining $2,000 anonymously, according to Currier.
“They were raising money for someone who was in their classes,” Amandus said. “It means something if they’re helping someone they know.”
Currier approached the Nikoras with the idea last school year, but they were reluctant to ask the school community for help.
Linda Nikora said she inherited a Depression-era spirit from her grandparents.
“You don’t ask for help,” she said. “You do it on your own. If you can’t afford it, you wait until you can.”
Amandus and Lucas are no strangers to fundraising — they have helped muscular dystrophy causes, too, appearing on the Jerry Lewis telethon in 2008 and serving as goodwill ambassadors this year.
Amandus has spoken about the disease to groups at the school, to help them understand what his life is like, and he said he’s found that people at Lakewood are very accepting of him.
Linda Nikora and her husband, Dustin, try to keep a positive outlook for their sons.
Currier and the students emphasized that the benefits of the fundraiser go both ways, helping both the Nikora family and the student body of Lakewood.
“Even though we are all just teenagers, we can really make a difference in someone’s life,” student Lilly Hallock said. “I feel like as a whole we’ve all changed just from what Amandus has done for us. Even though he has to be in a wheelchair every day, he has such a great attitude. It inspires us all.”