The Hollywood theme at Sunset View Elementary's celebration breakfast might have turned all the outgoing fifth-graders into stars Friday, but Asuanti Foner was treated like the most important of the VIPs.
The 12-year-old has been glum for the past couple of months so school employees and his fellow fifth-graders conspired to lift his spirits with a surprise.
Asuanti was diagnosed early this year with transverse myelitis, a rare virus that attacks the spinal cord, and has been paralyzed from the waist down.
"He's used to playing outside and running around," said his mother Melissa Jones of Kennewick. "And all of a sudden he can't walk anymore."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
It's possible his paralysis will go away, but about a third of those infected never walk again, Jones said.
"It's leaning toward permanent," she said. "Only time will tell."
Leigh Wick, the school's incoming parent-teacher organization president, who also is in a wheelchair, has been trying to help Asuanti adjust to life in a wheelchair, she said.
"Asuanti was having a hard time thinking people could be cool and could be normal and still be in a wheelchair," she said.
Then, Wick got an idea.
"I said, 'We should get him a disabled bike,' " she recalled.
So three weeks ago, Wick, school counselor Joyce Rodman and others started trying to raise money to buy a custom handcycle for the boy who loves to ride bikes and play sports.
Nearly $6,000 was raised in just a few weeks. The donations from Elks, other fifth-graders' parents and businesses allowed for the purchase of the nearly $2,000 specialty bicycle as well as other surprises for Asuanti.
"I didn't think they would take it that far," Jones said.
At the celebration breakfast Friday morning, Rodman called the unsuspecting Asuanti to the stage and asked what he was doing this summer.
She said, "We have some summer plans for you."
A smile spread across Asuanti's face and just got wider as Rodman listed what the money was going toward -- the five-year rental of the instrument he plays in orchestra, the viola, an opportunity to play basketball in Spokane and a possible stay at a Whidbey Island camp for those with disabilities.
Rodman saved the bike for last, she said.
"The bike is something that will be able to help him get out there," Jones said.
Asuanti said the surprises made him feel special and he is excited to ride with his friends and dad.
"It was just so overwhelming for him and I'm overwhelmed," Rodman said.