Swanville youth spearheads ‘Sponsor a Stripe’ fundraiser

Gage VanRisseghem inspired by zoo’s plan for a zebra and empowered by his family’s support

The Sponsor a Stripe Committee spearheaded by Gage VanRisseghem is raising money to help bring a zebra to Pine Grove Zoo. They gathered this week to pick up their bright yellow T-shirts, designed by Gage. Pictured are front row (from left): Cole Fjeld, Dillon Krebs, Brooklyn VonBerge, Maryn Meyer, Claire VanRisseghem, Ellis Meyer and Elijah VanRisseghem. Second row: Olivia VanRisseghem, Samantha VonBerge, Lily Fjeld, Asher Meyer, Aubrihannah Solem, Judah Meyer and Sydney VanRisseghem. Back row: Alexis VonBerge, Alexis Krebs, Gage VanRisseghem, Madelyn VanRisseghem, Shelby Krebs and Abigel Gosiak.

“At a membership meeting at the Pine Grove Zoo, I saw their future plans and that they wanted to get a zebra,” said 11-year-old Gage VanRisseghem, son of Brent and Angie of Swanville.

“When we walked out, I told my grandma (Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem) that we should have a fundraiser for the zebra,” he said.

Gage’s family members have provided support and contributed ideas for his dream. It was his grandpa, George, who thought of the fundraiser’s name — “Sponsor a Stripe.”

Gage talked with Marnita VanHoecke, Pine Grove Zoo director, to ask if he could conduct a fundraiser. The zoo’s Board of Directors approved the fundraiser, so Gage could pursue his dream.

Gage’s grandma, Cathy, suggested Gage draw up a design for a T-shirt. He made a few different drawings while riding in the car, which turned out to be a challenge.

“I would pause when I saw a bump coming up, then start drawing again,” said Gage. “I picked yellow for the shirts because it’s my favorite color.”

“Gage recruited all 10 of his cousins (10 years old down to three months old) to be on the Sponsor a Stripe committee,” Cathy said. “At the first committee meeting, several neighborhood children heard about it and asked to join and help.”

Since the first meeting, more and more kids and adults have heard about the fundraiser and have asked to be part of it.

The official launch of the fundraiser will be a garage sale event to be held at the Pine Grove Zoo playground shelter Saturday, July 28 from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

There will be face painting, fingernail painting and other activities at the event.

Gage has appeared on the Mayor’s Forum on Local Access Channel 6 with VanHoecke. Many press releases have been distributed publicizing the event. Orders are being accepted for T-shirts.

“We don’t have a goal, since the zoo doesn’t know exactly how much money they would need,” Gage said. “They said they would take whatever we raise.”

“I’m very proud of him for doing something like this,” said Gage’s aunt, Gabrielle Meyer.

“The most fun so far has been drawing the T-shirt design,” he said. “I didn’t think I would ever be involved in a project like this.”

“This is a great program — a great way to get kids involved in our community and help grow the zoo so we have more things to see,” said Kristina VonBerge, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Even the adults who come through Little Falls without kids want to see the zoo.”

When making donations for the garage sale, people are asked to first call Cathy at (320) 632-6847 or Angie at (320) 630-2148. Clothing items will not be accepted.

Many monetary donations have already been given. Those wishing to contribute can send their donation to the Pine Grove Zoo, 1200 W. Broadway, Little Falls, MN 56345, Attention: “Sponsor a Stripe.” Donations are tax-deductible.