All Smiles for young blind student


IMG_2360Despite being 7,700 miles and 11-plus
hours apart, Tempe residents Denise
Rentschler and Kate Baldanza forged
a bond that helped bring happiness to a blind
9-year-old and hope to dozens of other disabled
kids. The pair’s long-distance collaboration
netted almost $7,000 in donations to Team Asa,
a non profit focused on helping special-needs
Rentschler launched her first philanthropic
endeavor in 2012, challenging friends and neighbors
to leap into an Olympic-sized pool at the Tempe
Lakes community for a mid-winter Polar Plunge. The
effort produced some chilly divers but a happily warm
reception, with donations topping the $4,200 mark.
A year later, in 2013, enthusiasm for the event
had snowballed, with Rentschler joined by Baldanza,
who by then was serving as a military police officer in
Kabul, Afghanistan.
The miles, it turned out, hadn’t thrown cold water
on Baldanza’s determination to be part of Rentschler’s
next fund-raiser, so she decided to create a U.S. Army
spin-off of her friend Denise’s hometown initiative.
Funds generated at Baldanza’s event, coupled with the
nearly $6,000 raised by Rentschler’s efforts at home,
netted nearly $7,000, a portion of which provided
a specially outfitted tandem bike for the 9-year-old
and a sighted riding companion.
Said JoLyn Gibbons, principal of Aguilar
Elementary School where Rentschler and Baldanza
joined a group of well-wishers presenting the boy his
bike: “He has no fear. You’ll look at him and say, ‘He’s
not blind.’”

An assembly at Aguilar Elementary School provided
the backdrop for representatives of Team Asa’s
Polar Plunge project to surprise blind student
Joaquin Valencia with the No. 1 item on his wish list:
a tandem bike. With it, the 9-year-old fourth grader
and a buddy can compete in the school’s triathlon
this fall. Joining Aguilar’s Wildcat mascot and Tempe
Elementary District Adapted-PE instructor
Sally Picket, right, were project coordinator
Denise Rentschler, left, and her fund-raising
collaborator Kate Baldanza, in uniform, who organized
a copycat Polar Plunge during her stint as a military
police officer in Afghanistan. In all, the project
generated more than $7,000 in donations.

Photo by Billy Hardiman


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