LAKE - A dream of seven-year-old C.J. Gilstrap came true this week when he traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., as a result of Lake Attendance Center and the Lake community’s efforts in a Make-A-Wish project.
In December of 2009, Gilstrap was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, he is currently in remission. Because of his life-threatening illness, Gilstrap qualified for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Mississippi program.
The Make-A-Wish project for Gilstrap was implemented at LAC by the Youth Advisory Council (YAC), which is a segment of Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a federal grant that targets groups of students starting in the seventh grade and moving with them each year until they are in college. LAC’s YAC consists of 18 leaders from the ninth grade cohort. Each year, GEAR UP asks YAC to participate in service projects and this year, LAC’s YAC chose the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Mississippi
“We were ecstatic when we were told that we would be sponsoring one of own Hornet family members, C.J. Gilstrap,” said Stephanie Cotnam, librarian/ GEAR UP site coordinator for Lake High School. C.J. is the son of Victor Gilstrap, head basketball coach at LHS.
“We were very blessed the C.J. was picked for the Make-A-Wish project,” Victor Gilstrap said. “Going to Disney World is something C.J. has always wanted to do.”
Gilstrap said his son, C.J. was “extremely excited and overjoyed not only that he was being chosen to go to Disney World, but also because the Lake schools thought of him as one of their own.” C.J. attends Alpha & Omega School in Morton.
Cotnam said she was informed in order make Gilstrap’s wish come true the school had to raise $5,000. “This was a big challenge for our very small school,” she said.
Cotnam and her YAC team stepped up to the plate and developed a plan to sell stars, contact local businesses and sell a Make-A-Wish Hornet T-shirts, which have the Make-A-Wish Mississippi emblem on the front and on the back of the shirts had an image of a hornet with the saying “REAL HORNETS Make Wishes Come True!” She said in order to get the students to participate in the star selling, the school made it a competition between grades, with the winner receiving a pizza party sponsored by GEAR UP Mississippi for the grades that sold the most stars. The group sold more than 300 T-shirts as well.
Cotnam said the winning classes were: LMS Mrs. Lisa Johnson’s sixth period, LES Kindergarten and third grades, as well as, LHS freshman and senior classes. The YAC members also collected donations for the project from area businesses including Joe McGee Construction, Bank of Forest and Ingram Screen Printing.
In total, Lake schools fund raised more than $5,500 for the Make-A-Wish foundation and in return granted C.J. Gilstrap’s wish.
“It took countless students to count money, collect stars and organize shirt sales,” Cotnam said. “Our students truly poured their heart and soul into this service project. It makes me so very proud to call myself a Hornet!”
One of the most remarkable parts of the project is the time frame in which it was completed. In a matter of three weeks, the Hornets had not only reached the $5,000 goal, but had exceeded the goal by $500.
“I am amazed at the compassion and generosity shown by this school and community!” said Jane Walsh, Make-A-Wish Mississippi Chapter, Senior Development Manager for Central Mississippi.
Victor Gilstrap said he and his family are extremely grateful to the Lake schools and community for embracing this project for C.J.
“I am a man of loyalty,” said Gilstrap, who has coached boys and girls basketball for the past nine years at LAC. “Lake is the most loyal place I have ever worked. It is the best school in the state.”
Upon arrival in Orlando Sunday, the Gilstrap family including C.J.’s father, mother, Cassandra, and sister, Calei, 2, is staying the Spring Break week at the Give Kids the World Resort and C.J. said he was most excited about the water park.