A 10-year-old Sawnee Elementary student started his own business last weekend to raise money for a former classmate’s surgery.
Jake Stephens was Tyler Lillard’s bathroom buddy when they went to Wilson Creek Elementary in Johns Creek in 2012. Jake knew that Tyler had been diagnosed with epilepsy, and he would go with him to the bathroom to make sure he didn’t have a seizure.
After his family had moved to Forsyth County, Jake remembered Tyler, who will have experimental surgery June 20 to attempt to stop his epileptic seizures. He decided he could help his friend by raising money with a sweet tea stand in his front yard on June 8, called Tea for Tyler.
With some help from his mother, Tracy, sister Sydney, 7, brother Hunter, 14, and neighbor Coby Maynard, 11, Jake manned the stand and made $156.
His goal was $50 for the day, but when his mother saw the traffic a neighbor’s garage sale was bringing past their house in Sawnee View Farms, she encouraged her son to aim for $150.
“Jake said, ‘That’s crazy, there’s no way we’ll raise $150,’” Tracy said.
On June 10, four other friends of Jake helped run the stand, making another $22.
In the Johns Creek community, strangers and friends have joined together in support of Tyler, who has five of the six types of epileptic seizures, which started in March 2012, according to his mother, Tina.
Tyler will receive an operation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Thursday to remove a mass on his optic nerve that doctors believe may be the cause of his seizures and partial blindness.
The operation is not guaranteed to cure Tyler of his epilepsy, so the family’s insurance will not cover the costs. Through community fundraisers and an online Web page, http://www.gofundme.com/tylersepilepsyjourney, Tina said the total has now passed her goal of $50,000.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s a warm feeling to have those kinds of friends,” Tina said. “The money is one thing, but the time is immeasurable.”
During a fundraiser June 12, Jake gave Tyler a handmade check for $178 to help cover his surgery.
“He’s sleeping with the check,” Tina said. “Like, literally, I can’t get it out of his bed.”
The fundraiser drew about 500 visitors, organizer of the event and friend of the family, Stacey Ricks said.
Rick’s son Logan was also a classmate of Jake and Tyler. Classmates, friends and even strangers attended the night of food and games in honor of raising money for the surgery.
Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons running back, also attended the event.
Snelling was also diagnosed with epilepsy, Ricks said, and stayed at the event for a couple of hours to talk to kids and sign autographs, showing that it was possible to live with epilepsy.
“People could not have been more supportive of Tyler and of his family and of everything,” Ricks said.
The event raised “thousands and thousands of dollars,” Ricks said through ticket sales for the games, percentages of items sold by retailers and donations. The number is still rising as donations continue to flow in.
“The support is second to none,” Tina said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
She said the operation isn’t completely guaranteed, but the family will check in to the Mayo clinic June 19.
“We’re going up there on a wing and a prayer,” she said.