West Coast Martial Arts is looking for help from community businesses to raise money for Project Sparrow. | RecordCourier.com

West Coast Martial Arts is looking for help from community businesses to raise money for Project Sparrow.

by Merrie Leininger

The project is an attempt by the owners, George Fujii and Jill Kuckhoff, to prevent another youth suicide in the community.

Kuckhoff said the death of Eric Marchant, a student at Carson Valley Middle School who hung himself last summer, affected her deeply and she believes there must be many other children who experience the hopelessness Eric must have felt.

“Eric’s suicide was a warning for us to take a close look at our teens. So often we assume we have things under control only to find out we knew little of their struggles,” she said.

Eric’s mother, Cindy Marchant, said she thinks the program will help children like Eric who have low self-esteem.

n Wonderful program. “I do think it is a wonderful program, I think anything like this will help kids,” Cindy Marchant said.

Kuckhoff said the project has already started with one student, a boy in her son’s class at Gardnerville Elementary School.

After inviting 10-year-old Raymond Gomes to a class, Kuckhoff said she and Fujii witnessed a little boy who always stared at the floor blossom in the Tae Kwon Do classes.

“After a week you noticed the difference. He came in with no confidence, then he had his head up and he was really going for it,” she said.

The year-long scholarship has been given to one student so far, but the couple hopes to raise enough money to provide a scholarship to one student from every school.

Kuckhoff said the plan is to have counselors and teachers nominate students who need the program the most. The proposal has not yet received support from the Douglas County School District board of trustees.

She said the reason the program helps students is because it is not just about fighting.

“We focus on discipline, and all the things on the wall there,” she said as she pointed to the words painted in red: responsibility, integrity, honesty, courage, self- control, perseverance.

“In school, children learn their lessons without learning the values of dependability, perseverance, honesty, fidelity, courtesy, generosity,” Kuckhoff said. “Today, busy parents are apt to take pride only in learning of the multiplication tables, but both learning and manners are necessary.”

Ray Gomes’ whole family has been convinced of the program’s helpfulness.

Ray’s father, David, said both sets of grandparents were so impressed in the changes in Ray, they are now paying for classes for Ray’s twin sister, Anastazia.

“He had a real problem standing up for himself,” David Gomes said of Ray. “But he’s come to a place now where he stood up to (bullies in his class) and was able to talk to them and tell them ‘I’m just not going to take this.’ And he went about it in a mature and non-violent way.”

n Motivated in school. Gomes said the program has motivated Ray to work harder in school, because passing grades must be maintained to advance in the program.

“It has also made him establish a goal in his life. He wants to be a martial arts instructor. It was something he had a lot of interest in before, but now he just knows where to put it,” Gomes said.

Just the interaction with kids with common interests has helped Ray, he said.

The silent action used to raise money for Project Sparrow also raises money for “Kick Drugs out of America,” a project sponsored by Chuck Norris to help get inner-city youth involved in martial arts and away from drugs.

The items already up on the wall for the silent action includes $10 worth of items at Eastern Sierra Feed, free pizzas and a free month at Tropical Tan and Gym.

But more items are needed for the auction which will run between Oct. 26-31, Kuckhoff said. Anyone in the community can make bids between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. those days. Final bidding is 7 p.m. Oct. 31.

For more information, call 782-8343 or stop by West Coast at 1418 A Industrial Way.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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