MARQUETTE - There's a lot of giving going on in the Marquette area, and it has little to do with the holiday season.
The story starts with the Marquette Alternative High School's annual WE CARE fundraiser, which looks to raise money for a local cancer patient who needs help with treatment costs.
The school raised $800 this year during its can drive and MAHS English teacher Cindy DePetro, who helped spearhead the fundraiser last year, said the alternative school students wanted to find someone locally who could use the donation.
"Last year we gave it to Marquette General (Hospital) to decide, but this year we saw a flyer about a little girl named Ainsley," DePetro said. "She has cancer and needs to have chemo treatment, and she has to be flown down (to Detroit)."
They had found just who they were looking for.
Ainsley Kargela, the daughter of Patty Williams and Dennis Kargela, was diagnosed at the tender age of 3 with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that is found in soft tissue, connective tissue or bone.
Ainsley's was discovered after doctors had already removed a tumor on her adrenal glands with no issues when she was 1 year old. But in October of this year, her cheek appeared swollen, so she was sent to see an oncologist at the Detroit Children's Hospital, where they did a CT scan and discovered a tumor.
Roughly 95 percent of the tumor was removed through surgery, but Ainsley still needed to undergo 22 separate chemotherapy treatments in Detroit to help beat back this fast-growing cancer.
To get to Detroit, Ainsley cannot take commercial flights since her immune system is too weak to combat so many people in such a small space, breathing re-circulated air.
So, she is transported to Detroit via Northwoods Airlifeline whenever possible. It's a nonprofit organization that offers free flights to patients throughout the Upper Peninsula to medical facilities out of the area for specialized treatment at no cost to the patient.
And when the weather is too bad for the tiny plane that seats Ainsley, her mom, a doctor and a pilot to take off, the family makes the roughly seven-hour drive to Detroit for treatment.
Patty Williams, who fought her own battle with breast cancer two years ago, said she was thankful for the support.
"We are completely overwhelmed," Williams said. "The community support is amazing. All the love and support and prayers we're receiving is just overwhelming."
Williams said the $800 given to her family will be donated to Northwoods Airlifeline, so they can continue to provide support to people in need across the U.P.
"They've flown us once down to Detroit," Williams said. "When they offered this (donation) to us, and they wanted to pay for a flight, I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to send the money for (Northwoods Airlifeline)."
The family will need to travel down to Detroit at least 19 more times for treatment.
To help offset some of those costs, Dawn Dott Dance Studio of Marquette has begun taking donations to help get Ainsley back on the dance floor.
"She's currently enrolled here," said studio owner Kimber Schumann. "She's been coming the last couple of weeks still."
Schumann said the other students have jumped on board, helping make Ainsley feel at home. When Ainsley began to lose some of her hair the students in her dance class all wore bandanas right along with her.
Schumann said it was important for her studio to be a part of the community, as well as the kids who learn to dance there, teaching them that "whatever they do, big or small, it still matters."
Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the studio's little learners have sent thank you cards to veterans, helped make blankets for the Women's Center and other projects.
"The parents enjoy us teaching the kids to give back," Shumann said.
Donations of any sort for the Kargula-Williams family - such as gift cards to grocery stores or gas stations - or monetary donations can be dropped off at Dawn Dott Dance Studio located at 121 N. front Street in Marquette.
For more information on Northwoods Airlifeline, visit www.northwoodsairlifeline.org.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org