Cassina students unite for fellow teenager

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Even by Tuolumne County's high standards, it was extraordinary.

When a few of his Cassina High School friends decided to put on a car wash to help Cody Wright, they hoped to raise maybe a few hundred dollars. Cody had lost his grandmother and great-grandmother in a Feb. 26 fire at their Jamestown-area home, and the students figured that anything would help.

But the Feb. 29 car wash instead was successful beyond their wildest dreams: In about six hours, the hose-, sponge- and towel-wielding young people took in an incredible $12,500 and change, plus gift cards.

So were there a lot of dirty cars in Sonora that afternoon?

Maybe, but a lot of really clean cars came in for washes. And many drivers who bypassed the hoses and sponges altogether handed over $20, $50 and $100 bills.

The very first car in line may have hinted at what was ahead. Its driver, from Chicken Ranch Bingo, paid out $1,000. He didn't even get car scent.

Sure, Cody's grandmother may have worked at Chicken Ranch, but a thousand dollars?

It was that kind of afternoon.

"It took on a life of its own," said Cassina Principal Jim Roeber, adding that fully two-thirds of the high school's student body was involved in the fundraiser. "Our parking lot was full all afternoon. The wait was 20 or 30 minutes, but people didn't care."

While most of the students were washing, others went to downtown Sonora street corners with signs.

They shouted encouragement and directions to passing motorists, many of whom changed plans and drove up to Cassina.

The car wash again marked what Tuolumne County has seen many times: The convergence of tragedy, charity and compassion. This community consistently steps up to the plate when one of its own is in need, and the plight of teenager Cody Wright was no exception.

Cody escaped the early-morning mobile home fire, but great-grandmother Nobie Partain and grandmother Goldie Kerr, who was raising the boy, died in the flames. The loss struck a nerve, and when word of the car wash hit the media, hundreds of drivers set aside time Friday to visit Cassina.

"People wanted to help a kid who had lost everything," said Roeber.

The cash raised has been put in a fund to be administered by Cody's aunt, who lives in Modesto. Cody himself is now with an uncle, who also lives in the valley city.

Car wash cash that the student organizers first figured might buy Cody a few clothes and school supplies now has the potential to help this young man for years to come.

But there are unintended beneficiaries of the March 1 effort: the Cassina students themselves.

"They are both proud and amazed at what they have done," said Roeber, adding that students planned and operated the car wash from beginning to end. "These kids knew that Cody had lost his family, and I think there was a growing realization that they had become his family now, and it was up to them to help. It was an amazing afternoon."

It was an afternoon on which teenagers set an example for us all.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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