Ten-year-old Dylan Strobel was in his summer coding class at Central Elementary School in Riverside when inspiration hit him to create something special.
Along with his classmate, Jack Hesla, he coded a commercial using the program Scratch. He then presented it to the class to promote a toy drive his family was hosting the next day.
The toy drive was held on July 26 at the Strobel’s house in Riverside to raise money for Russ Motykowski, a Central custodian. Motykowski, commonly referred to as “Mr. Russ,” has been battling cancer since 2017 and stopped working at Central last year because of his health.
After Motykowski’s wife stopped working to care for him full-time, a neighbor created a GoFundMe page to support the family who was struggling with medical bills and other payments. The fundraiser can be found here.
Dylan’s mother and PTO board member, Missy Strobel, said she heard multiple calls of support for Mr. Russ. Though the PTO could not donate itself, a toy drive was thought of as a substitute and an opportunity for the kids a chance to organize an event.
With the possible help of Dylan’s commercial, the Strobels received quite the surprise a day before the drive.
“We were at a Sox game, and when we came home, our entire lawn was covered with donations,” she said. “Because there was no more room on the front porch, the house was full. It was really funny. It looked like we had been evicted.”
Thirty families ultimately pitched in to donate toys.
The drive lasted from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and was all managed by kids. Dylan and his younger sister, Avery, ran the cash register and acted as store managers.
More than 15 other children organized and priced the inventory, which included action figures, shoes, a dollhouse and an X-Box gaming system priced at $20.
With cookies and lemonade sold on the side, the drive raised nearly $950 in total. The rest of the unsold toys were picked up by an epilepsy foundation the following day. The entire experience and community support left Missy Strobel overwhelmed.
“There was nothing but good feelings,” she said. “When you come together and see what the kids are doing, it just feels so good. It was like every neighbor on my street was there. … So many parents were coming just to spread the word about Mr. Russ, too.”
Dylan and Avery said they loved to get people and their friends to come to the drive. But both remain focused on helping Mr. Russ.
“[Mr. Russ would] do anything to help,” Dylan said. “He doesn’t mind working a little extra as long it helps someone.”
Ryan Bookler, an Ames School teacher who runs the summer coding class at Central School, was enthusiastic when Dylan asked to present his commercial. The commercial features a cartoon bear and penguin talking about the toy drive.
“It was one of those ah-ha moments you have as a teacher,” Bookler said. “It was meaningful, it was authentic. He took what he learned in school and he applied it to help someone, another human being.
“It was evident that he really cares about Mr. Russ and he wanted to help.”