A pair of Solon Springs High School seniors are taking a classroom assignment into the community. Gavin Stewart is raising awareness of teen suicide and depression. Inspired by his younger sister, Alex Hunter is raising funds to battle spina bifida.

"This is a very small assignment that I give every year's group of seniors: What are you going to do to impact society careerwise, personal wise? What are you going to do out there in the world or change the world?" school counselor Russ Nelson said.

For these students, the assignment became something much larger.

"I don't even consider it a senior project," Hunter said. "This is just something I really want to do."

Each year, about 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida, a condition that affects the spine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It tends to fly under the radar, said Hunter, 17.

"No one sits and talks about it like they do with cancer and leukemia," he said, but it hit home when his sister, Nevaeh, was diagnosed with spina bifida.

Nevaeh had surgery for the condition a year ago, and will have to undergo at least one more surgery.

"She's the happiest girl I've ever seen," Hunter said. "She can walk, but it's starting to get to the point where she has to stop walking at certain times of the day because the pain and her legs go numb and she can't feel them."

The teen is holding a fundraising event, "Solon Springs Hoops to Help," during the home basketball game against Drummond on Feb. 8 to raise both awareness of spina bifida and funds for families who can't afford the needed surgery.

"It will be a really good game," said Hunter, a starting guard for the Eagles.

When the teams met in Drummond, the Lumberjacks pulled off a win in a very close contest. Fans are encouraged to come cheer the team on and learn more about spina bifida.

Spina Bifida Association T-shirts and other merchandise will be sold during both the junior varsity and varsity games and a 50/50 raffle will be held. A representative from the association may speak at halftime, and the school is considering earmarking a portion of the admission price to the association.

Donations are also being accepted online through the Spina Bifida Association website. Visit sbevents.org, click the "Donate" tab and search "Alex Hunter" to help.

Focus on teen suicide

Stewart has planned a Red Locker Assembly for Friday, Jan. 25, when he will discuss teen suicide with students from Solon Springs and Northwood schools.

"He's going to tell his story, to share basically with that mission of bringing mental health and suicide identification to the forefront, so people know where to go and where to get help," Nelson said.

The presentation will include a reading of Shane Koyczan's "To This Day ... for the bullied and beautiful" by middle school forensics students. Whether other local teens will step up to speak is unsure, Nelson said, but Stewart plans to do it alone if need be.

"I'm impressed and I don't know what it's going to do, but it's going to do something magical," Nelson said.

But Stewart's work won't end there. The senior launched a GoFundMe crowdfunding site, "The Canvas Blanket Project," on Jan. 8 to raise money for community projects to help teens who suffer from depression.

"He wants to run open mic nights, game nights, painting nights, kind of as a 'Let's bring people together, give them that kind of communal group support that kids don't otherwise get,'" Nelson said.

Visit gofundme.com and search for "Project Canvas Blanket" to donate.