Country music artist Eric Church was mid-set, onstage at the Chase Center in San Francisco Saturday night when he read a green sign about a Soulsbyville Elementary School fundraiser made by student Makenna Wallace.
“I will sponsor you for your jog-a-thon,” Church said, erupting a roar from the massive crowd. “I like your shades by the way.”
“As her parents we were like, ‘go for it,’ but it was only kind of an idea,” said her mother Megan Wallace, 36. “When it happened, it was unbelievable. We were in shock. It was surreal. We were so proud of her, we just kept telling her.”
Soulsbyville Elementary School’s annual jog-a-thon had actually happened the day before, but Makenna Wallace was planning all week to hopefully catch the attention of Church, a multi-platinum country music recording star and a seven-time Grammy Award nominee.
She first drafted the sign on a napkin at The Peppery in Sonora and made it out of materials from a local discount store. On Friday during the jog-a-thon fundraiser, which was raising money for a new primary-grade playground, Makenna Wallace ran 15 laps, or about three miles.
She raised $735 that day, her mother said. She had no idea she was about to raise $10,000 more.
Megan Wallace said Church was in the middle of the song “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” when he saw Makenna, who had left her seat and descended to a side stage platform to hold up the sign.
He gestured to her, appearing to ask her to wait, and then asked for the lights to be lifted up when the song was over, Megan Wallace said.
“If I could say anything to him I would say, thank you, you’re my hero, stuff like that,” Makenna Wallace said. “I was just like, ‘oh my gosh this is really happening?I was really shaky. I was happy, nervous, it was awesome.”
Megan Wallace, her husband, Jeremy, 39, their other daughter Macy, 7, and a group of their family friends cheered as Makenna looked back toward a phone with her aviator sunglasses.
She was beaming from ear to ear.
“I grew up listening to it and I just love it,” she said.
Church performs one of Makenna Wallace’s favorite songs, “Springsteen,” and he even gave her a hug at the end of the night during the track as he was closing out his three-hour concert.
Later, the family gave their information to Church’s security employee, who emailed them Monday asking for all the information about the jog-a-thon.
Noelle Taylor, the parent teacher organization president, received another email Wednesday from Church’s financial employee.
It said, “Eric and his wife Katherine wanted to donate, and it should be credited to Makenna’s tally and the check was in the mail,” Megan Wallace said.
The total took everyone by surprise: $10,000. The check had not yet arrived as of Thursday, but it was expected soon, Megan Wallace said.
“He had no clue anything about her, us, or our community. But he saw her, recognized and followed through with this generous donation that is going to help this school tremendously. We are just so thankful and grateful for his generosity,” Megan Wallace said.
Soulsbyville Elementary School plans to unveil the $10,000 donation with an oversized check on Friday morning during a school assembly.
“We are ecstatic and honored and we feel fortunate that one of our students was able to reach out in acquiring this donation for our Falcon family,” said school secretary Betsy Taylor.
The school plans to play the video and will allow Makenna to make a statement to the school. She will not know the donation amount until the check is revealed at the assembly, Taylor said.
“I was just overjoyed when I heard. I've seen him in concert myself,” said Taylor, who saw Church last year in Sacramento.
The parent teacher organization organized the jog-a-thon to replace a 20-year old playground used by K-3 students.
“We are replacing it because it’s outdated and our student population has outgrown the needs of it,” Taylor said.
The playground has four slides, monkey bars, a bridge, a climbing wall and a fire pole and is set on a rubber bark surface, Taylor said.
The jog-a-thon was held Sept. 27 on the school campus, with the goal of raising $25,000. The total has not been tabulated yet, Taylor said, as final donations are due on Friday.
Before the jog-a-thon, the school had raised $50,000. Their hope is to reach $100,000 and the demolition and installation of a new playground is pending the completion of the goal.
“Thank you for fulfilling my daughter's dream and thank you for being amazing as a person and helping our small community,” Megan Wallace said.
Soulsbyville Elementary School is a K-8 school located in Tuolumne County. It has 565 students and was founded over 150 years ago.