Once again, the North Callaway R-I Schools family is pulling together to support one of its own.
Junior Justin Jennings sustained serious head injuries in a four-wheeler accident on Jan. 14, and as he continues to recover his classmates are taking steps to raise money to help his family with ongoing medical expenses.
For the past week, North Callaway High School students have been bringing in money to vote on what neon color football coach Kevin O'Neal should sport in his goatee next week - purple, pink, green or blue - an effort that will be continued during Friday night's Courtwarming festivities. The fundraiser is being organized by the Students Against Destructive Decisions.
"I was approached by (the students) to participate," O'Neal said. "I coach Justin during football, so I know him pretty well. Any way I can help, I'll do it."
Junior Alyssa Cassidy, who said she has become good friends with Jennings since starting at the high school together, said she came up with the idea because felt she had to do something for her friend.
"You've got to reach out to your classmates," Cassidy. "Justin Jennings is a great guy - he's involved in school and the community, he's nice to everybody - I think it's our duty to take care of those in our community.
"I know the whole family - they're the type of people if somebody needed help, they'd do it."
O'Neal said that spirit has been his favorite part about being involved in the fundraising efforts.
"I like seeing the kids get excited about this," he said.
"It's good to see them get behind something, and it's for a good cause."
O'Neal said he is more than happy to do his part to help as well, although he is hoping he can convince his coworkers to help turn the lead from the current favorite - pink.
"I've been leaning towards green, so I've been trying to get my fellow teachers to vote for that," O'Neal said, although he ruefully admitted, "I think they're all still leaning towards pink."
In addition to the contest to see what color O'Neal will dye his goatee, Cassidy said SADD also is selling gel wrist bands stamped with the phrase "In it to win it" for $2. Cassidy said the fundraising efforts already have yielded $150, although she wants to raise much more.
"We're hoping to get a really good turnout at Courtwarming, and that the community will find a way to get out and support the family," Cassidy said.
She said there is talk of doing larger fundraisers such as a dance marathon or balloon launch in the future but noted, "We need to get some money in now and let him know people are doing something for him and we haven't forgotten about him."
Jennings' father, Michael Jennings, said he was touched by the efforts.
"It's great that they are doing it, but I didn't expect it," Michael Jennings said. "I was pretty excited when I heard about it."
He said his son, who was in a coma for a week after flipping his four-wheeler and landing on his face on pavement, is doing better.
"He remembers everybody, he just doesn't remember what he just did 5 minutes ago," Jennings said. "As far as anything else, we won't know until later."
He said it will be another two to three weeks before Justin can come home from Rusk Rehabilitation in Columbia "depending on how fast he gets going."
Courtwarming starts with the junior varsity basketball game versus South Callaway at 6 p.m. Anyone who is unable to attend Friday night also may send donations to the high school to be forwarded to the family.