Emporia Middle School sixth graders raised more than $9,600 for community organizations and local families during the 7th Annual Walk-a-Thon Friday.

The students, who have been fundraising for several weeks, collected a grand total of $9,666.99.

Sixth-Grade Counselor Christy Dragonas said $3,000 was being donated to Ace It Up, in memory of former EMS student Ace Garate who was killed in a car accident in May. Ace was known for his kind heart and giving spirit, she said, and that’s why the school decided to help honor his memory by funding Ace It Up Buddy Benches.

“I had the privilege of having Ace as a sixth grader on the Silver team,” Dragonas said. “Ace’s message of kindness has just spread like wildfire around this community, and I’m even going to say around this state. We wanted to be able to provide benches within the school, out and around the track, that send the message that Ace had.”

Ace’s parents, Amy and Carlos Garate, were present during the Friday afternoon assembly to accept the donation.

“Ace loved fundraising,” Amy Garate said. “I think he thought it was ‘fun-raising,’ not fundraising. ... That’s what his passion was, was to give to others. Whenever you have the chance to help somebody or do something, do it for them, because it’s going to make you feel better.”

Carlos Garate said he and his wife were matching the donations of the top three fundraisers and putting it back toward the Walk-a-Thon in honor of their son. Ace was the top fundraiser in 2017 when he was in sixth grade.

EMS Teacher Morgan Taylor, who is currently battling cancer, was presented with $3,000 to help her with her bills.

“I really appreciate all of the donations that you were able to collect this year,” Taylor said before the amount of the donation was revealed. “It’s really going to help with a lot of my medical expenses.”

“Because of all of your hard work, you are providing Ms. Taylor with $3,000,” Dragonas said.

Taylor was shocked — but grateful — for the donation.

Students also voted on which organizations they wished to support through the Emporia Community Foundation.

This year, $700 was donated to Friends of the Animal Shelter, Habitat for Humanity, Food for Students, Military Care Packages and the Team Schnak Strong Fund.

Dragonas said the Friends of the Animal Shelter was unable to have a representative at Friday’s assembly, but the money would help the organization support the Emporia Animal Shelter in its mission to care for and better the lives of homeless animals.

Emporia Area Habitat for Humanity Board Members Eric Huggard and Clint Shown said $700 would go far to help their organization build homes in Emporia by paying for all of the fasteners for the next two home builds they undertake.

With a current build underway, Shown said Habitat was asking EMS sixth graders to sign two 2-by-4s on a home that is currently being erected in the 100 block of Mechanic Street.

“We’re real excited about it and we appreciate everything,” he said.

Food for Students Board Member Ashley Walker said the sixth graders had just funded 70 bags of food for some of their food-insecure classmates. She said she was proud of the students for being leaders in the community, and for working to make Emporia a better place for everyone.

“This is what it means to be a leader, and you are being a leader,” she said. “I hope every year you find a way to better your community, because that’s what leaders do. Good job and thank you.”

Kent Schnakenberg of Team Schnak said students had funded nearly two full scholarships to Camp Discovery — a camp for children with Type 1 Diabetes located in Junction City.

Military Care Packages Coordinator Diane Tebbetts praised the sixth graders’ patriotism for their donation to her organization, which provides care packages to deployed military personnel overseas.

“It is a blessing to know that you young people are patriotic enough to show support for our military men and women,” she said. “It’s a blessing, and I hope every adult in this room joins you in that blessing.”

Collectively, Emporia’s sixth graders have raised more than $72,000 for the local community since the event began in 2013.

“I think you’ve seen today that you do make a difference,” Dragonas said. “I think today you witnessed what a difference you have made.”

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