TUSCOLA — It isn’t always easy to ask for help in a time of need.
Thanks to a spirited effort by the Tuscola community, the families of Colton Rahn and Dilynn Wilson didn’t have to ask.
Six businesses in downtown Tuscola are teaming up tonight to raise money for the East Prairie Middle School classmates as they undergo medical treatment in St. Louis.
“It’s amazing,” said Colton’s mother, Katie Parker. “There’s times where all I can say is we’re all speechless. One of our big fears when we found out that Colton had cerebral palsy was the struggles he would face, the way his peers would react, because we all know school can be super rough on a kid. And he’s never had that; they’ve always been very accepting.”
Dilynn and Colton both have cerebral palsy; Dilynn specifically has spastic diplegia, which affects motor control of the legs. Colton was diagnosed in May with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of soft tissue cancer commonly known as RMS.
Colton is currently undergoing a 40-week treatment for RMS and sports a good long-term outlook. Dilynn is preparing for a procedure that will leave her legs in casts for four to five months.
Through it all, they’ve always had each other’s back.
“It’s kind of neat that they both have cerebral palsy and were able to kind of go through grade school and stuff together (not being) alone,” said Dilynn’s father, Josh Wilson. “(It) was nice, for both of them, I think.”
North Ward Elementary Principal Jason Wallace got to know Dilynn for her sense of humor and Colton as a die-hard sports fan. Connecting with either came easy given their kindness and toughness.
“Just two tough kids, I mean, nothing ever gets them down,” Wallace said.
“I think if adults acted the way these two have through their short lives, we would be more successful and we would see so many more good things happen in our area and in our country. They’re just two kids that I admire.”
Their classmates have been supportive as well, helping whenever necessary and making sure to treat each as a regular pal.
Compassion is a theme of the duo’s dynamic — Colton once earned a golden paw award at North Ward for helping Dilynn exit a school bus during a field trip.
“It was just one of those (things) that was very, super sweet,” Parker said. “I don’t think they’re as close now as they used to be, but they’ve always kind of given each other a lot of flak. They’ve always supported each other, they realize they’re going through similar struggles in life.”
Hearing lots of medical lingo and about frequent visits to the doctor and long trips to St. Louis for treatments — at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for Colton and Shriners Hospital for Dilynn — could be a scary experience for anybody.
But both have kept their spirits high in the face of adversity.
“Colton is a super determined, passionate kid,” Parker said. “He’s got a heart of gold. He wants to be involved and help anybody he can. That’s just kind of always been him.”
Tuscola has been equally as involved at every corner, often going above and beyond to ensure the families’ needs are met.
When Josh — who admits he isn’t much of a handyman — solicited advice for a new wheelchair ramp on Facebook, his intention was to glean knowledge on the proper angles to align.
His pastor at First Christian Church reached out within an hour with news that the project would be taken care of. The home sported a brand-new ramp in a week’s time.
“I can’t say enough how fortunate we really are,” Wilson said. “We’re very fortunate.”
Treatments for Colton and Dilynn require each family to take time off work and travel to and from St. Louis for treatment.
The cost associated with those trips includes food, gas and a bevy of other expenses, which can add up quickly. They couple with everyday hassles that become far more annoying; Parker’s car is ill-equipped for the commute to St. Louis, a problem circumvented by using Colton’s dad’s car.
“At this point, you know, we’re out of PTO time,” Parker said. “It’s becoming a struggle to pay those monthly bills to have a house to go back to and make sure his brother has everything he needs as well.”
“It’s all the little things that you don’t think about … yesterday, I went down for breakfast, and I literally got some eggs, biscuits and gravy, tater tots and a bottle of juice. And it was almost $8 for breakfast. When you’re not working, that adds up really quickly.”
‘Give a little of us’
Tonight’s “Downtown Night” fundraiser will help target those kinds of expenses, thanks to a group of area mothers who coordinated the effort with six Tuscola businesses.
Joe’s Pizza and Mi Veracruz will donate portions of their sales during dinner service, and The Cast Iron Pub will offer discounted whiskey and make a donation as well.
Rainbows and Sunshine Boutique, Shimmer and Sheek Boutique and Downtown Design (on sales of Warrior Wear) will also make donations.
“We know how family is important to us,” said Mi Veracruz manager Yadeli Xolo. “I know they’re going through a lot, so we kind of just wanted to help out. Give a little of us to help out the community.”
Mi Veracruz is owned by Maria and Elsa Ramirez, Xolo’s aunt and mother. One of Xolo’s younger sisters is a classmate of Colton and Dilynn’s at East Prairie.
Family connections are easy to spot in Tuscola, especially in a time of need.
“It was important for my husband and I to be in a small town because that’s the feel that we grew up with,” said community parent Tara Steinert. “From a community standpoint, everybody has each other’s backs and comes down to support each other at a time of celebration and also a time of need.”
Among those who had a hand in planning the event are Steinert, Carol Pettry, Marla Vearl, Kelly Engelhart, Jessica Ray wand Marissa Taylor. Their compassion will be impossible for either family to forget.
“You hear a lot of things about living in a small town and everything else, but between the school district and the parents all coming together in the community, we couldn’t be happier with what they’ve done for us. We really appreciate it,” Wilson said.