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March 28, 2013

Victorious: Community rallies behind local student to win national contest

GREENVILLE — On Feb. 19, 450 children sat on the edge of their seats as they heard Sarah Shreve’s voice sound over the intercom at Lone Oak Elementary School.

After months of campaigning to win a national video contest on behalf of her school, Sarah, who made a significant step in overcoming a severe social anxiety disorder in order to enter, had received the news an entire community had been waiting to hear.

“We have an update from the Team Sarah camp,” Sarah exclaimed excitedly via a pre-recorded iPhone audio message. “We did it, you guys. We won!”

The school erupted with applause and cheers of joy, echoing the pride of the community who had rallied behind Sarah to help her find the voice that Selective Mutism had robbed her of.

The grassroots voting campaign for Scotties’ Tissue’s ‘Trees Rock’ contest garnered over 14,000 votes for Lone Oak Elementary out of a total of 100,000, making it the smallest school to have ever won the grand prize in the contest’s history.

“[The contest officials] were shocked that such a tiny community was able to turn out such a huge response,” Lone Oak Elementary principal Judy Steadham said. “There were people from all walks of life and from every corner of the United States voting for her. But this was never about winning a contest or money. It was about helping Sarah find her voice, and supporting her for the courage that she had to show to make that video in the first place. She was an inspiration for all of us.”

In addition to receiving a tree planting ceremony to beautify the campus, the school will be given a $10,000 cash prize, a gift that will have a significant impact on the students and their teachers.

“We’re going to put the money straight into technology through the purchase of 50 iPads for the classrooms to share,” Steadham said. “We have a high poverty rate here, so money is very difficult for us to manage. This has given us an opportunity for these kids that we simply never would have been able to dream of before. It’s going to allow us to integrate all our present curriculum, and give the kids a more hands-on approach to education.”

The contest has also proven to be a major source of therapy for Sarah, serving as the catalyst in overcoming the disorder that leaves her vocally paralyzed when prompted to speak to anyone other than members of her immediate family.

“She spoke to her teacher for the first time a few weeks ago,” her mother, Melisa, said of the 9-year-old. “Before that, she hadn’t spoken to another adult, outside of myself, my husband, and my son, in six or seven years. It was such a major breakthrough for her. This contest and the community has done more for my family than I ever thought possible.”

For her part, Sarah will receive a brand new Macbook Air, a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, and a $5,000 cash prize, which her mother says will be put into a college fund to help Sarah achieve her dream of becoming an art teacher.

On April 12, Scotties Tissue plans to host an open invitation ceremony at Lone Oak Elementary, where the newly landscaped campus — complete with eight fully-grown trees, updated flower beds with Texas Knockout roses, and a bench with a plaque that will read ‘We helped Sarah find her voice’ — will be revealed.

“We’re also going to have one more surprise for the community,” Melisa said, grinning from ear to ear. “Sarah’s going to make a brand new video, to thank everybody in the community for their tremendous support and the difference they have made in our lives.”

Never will a little girl’s gratitude ring so loud and true.

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