Sixth-graders raise money to help buy service dog for Nipomo teen

clambert@thetribunenews.comDecember 10, 2013 

When asked for their impression of Nipomo High School junior Philip Vaughan, numerous arms in Cheryl Little’s sixth-grade class shot into the air.

“He definitely loves to dance,” said 11-year-old Danika Cornejo. “He shows us the moonwalk or how he can ballroom dance.”

Kennedy Neice, 11, said Philip was shy at first, but after he got to know the class “he started hugging people.”

Other classmates talked about Philip’s love of Legos, about the medals he’s won running in the Special Olympics at Cuesta College, and his sense of humor.

“I guess you could call Philip a ladies’ man,” said 11-year-old Shane Hoover. “He comes in and goes to the girls first.”

For their community service project — an annual requirement for Little’s sixth-graders at Branch Elementary School in Arroyo Grande — the students decided to try to raise $18,000 to buy a service dog for Philip, who has Down syndrome and in February 2010 was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“I was relieved when Mrs. Little’s class wanted to help out,” Philip’s mother, Brenda Vaughan, said this week.

The English Golden Retriever will serve as a diabetic-alert dog, which has been specifically trained using cotton balls that Philip has sucked on to react to the chemical change produced by his blood sugar highs and lows and alert an adult nearby.

The dog, Remington (“Remmy” for short), is currently being trained at Heartland Diabetic Alert Dogs’ facility in Enid, Okla.

“It will be beneficial in that I don’t have to test him as often,” Brenda Vaughan said. “And it gives him more independence.”

Philip will be able to go over to a friend’s house, for example, and Remmy will alert an adult in plenty of time for insulin to be administered.

Brenda Vaughan said she wanted to buy the dog for Philip, the youngest of her seven children. But as a newspaper carrier with three routes for The Tribune, the cost was out of her reach. A student in Little’s class learned about her wish through his church, and the sixth-graders enthusiastically adopted the goal as their project.

The students realized pretty quickly that they would have to do more than bake sales to raise enough money, so they’ve been visiting local businesses to share their cause and ask for donations.

So far, they’ve raised about $10,000, including $1,000 each from Grover Beach-based Fluid Resource Management and Clocina, which manage and manufacture wastewater treatment plant systems, respectively.

Five students presented to company owners on Monday evening, with Philip also in attendance. As photos were taken, he flexed his muscles, drawing laughter from the students and business owners.

Brenda Vaughan has also received donations, bringing the total from $15,000 to $16,000.

“I think it’s a pretty big success so far,” said Max Vink, 12. “It makes us feel good because we’re helping people who can’t help themselves.”

How to help

Donations to Cheryl Little’s sixth-grade class for Philip Vaughan can be sent to Branch Elementary, 970 School Road, Arroyo Grande, CA 93420. Checks should be made out to Branch PTO. Donations are tax-deductible.

On Thursday, Chili’s Grill and Bar in Arroyo Grande will donate 15 percent of the day’s sales to support Philip Vaughan’s service dog. Diners must either print out a flier and present it (find one at or mention the event to their server. The restaurant is located at 991 Rancho Parkway.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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