Mayfair High School’s Team World Vision club needed some new members.
The group had first started last school year, when teacher Debra VanderBaan first put together a handful of students who ran in a half-marathon and raised money for Team World Vision, a charity dedicated to providing clean drinking water in Africa.
But VanderBaan wanted to grow the club in its second year at Mayfair. So she started asking students around school if they wanted to sign up. Surprisingly, yet somehow unsurprisingly, Brandon Neri was the first to volunteer.
It’s not out of character for Neri’s hand to be the first in the air for something like this. He was in the school’s annual Mr. Monsoon competition, is an honorary member of the band and took part in the students vs. faculty basketball game this winter.
But it was still a surprise when Neri signed up for the half-marathon, given that he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was two weeks old.
“Right away when he got home, he tried to explain it but he was too excited,” his mother, Patricia, said. “We’re working as a team together to make it happen.”
Patricia Neri describes her son as “a miracle.” He died and was resuscitated at a young age and suffers from seizure disorder and complex congenital heart disease. But Brandon Neri, now in 12th grade, has made the most of the second chance he’s been given, playing baseball and taking part in the school band.
So there was an appeal to him to helping other kids around the world.
“I think it’s important because I want to show people that are like me or have other disabilities that it’s possible,” Neri said using a speech generating device. “I think it’s important because I get to help provide clean water for those who need it.”
Neri is largely confined to a wheelchair. So when he’s practiced with the Mayfair team, and when he participates on Sunday at the OC Marathon Running Festival, he needs help to complete the race.
Faculty advisers Lindsey Hutton and AnneMarie Sharp take turns pushing him in a special wheelchair on loan from Team Hoyt, a father-son duo who have been running in marathons together for decades. When the team runs on Saturdays, Neri gets a lot of attention from onlookers.
And Neri has helped the rest of the Mayfair team take their fundraising to the next level.
Last year, with just a handful of students involved, Mayfair raised around $750 for Team World Vision. This year, the group has grown to close to 40 members. The Monsoons have raised $14,989 and counting, enough to provide 300 kids with clean water, matching the team’s initial goal, which has now been upped to 400.
“Knowing you’re in the U.S. and you have access to everything, and there’s some children who have no access to the simplest thing that we may take for granted, which is clean water, it’s on us to take the initiative to help those in need,” student Aliya Roserie said.
So the group has been training since January for the race while simultaneously fundraising. The hardest day was a 10-mile run.
“I thought it was boring in the sense of the scenery,” student Andrew Padilla said. “I started thinking about the cause, and it got my through the run.”
The team has trained for the first 10 miles of the half-marathon. As for the final 3.1 miles the idea is to remember why you’re running.
As for Neri, he plans on finishing the last tenth of a mile on Sunday using a walker, hoping to send a message to others with cerebral palsy.
“I will not let these labels define me,” Neri said. “Do your very best. Live your best life.”
“Kids like him, sometimes they feel like they’re left behind,” Patricia Neri added before looking around at the rest of the Mayfair support system her son has developed
. “But when there’s people like them, that they really care what they do, it motivates them to live a normal life.”