By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A St. Paul charter school is raising money for a life-saving kidney transplant for the mother of one of their students.

Doctors told Socorro Neri-Vergara she will die without a transplant. However, Neri-Vergara is an undocumented immigrant and was denied being placed on a transplant list. The insurance she qualifies for with her status doesn’t cover transplants.

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So, St. Paul City School is reading to make a difference.

Their noses are in books.

“Somebody sponsors us and everybody reads, and people pay for how much we read,” student Henry Villeda said.

Nearly 500 students at St. Paul City School participated in a read-a-thon to raise money for the mom of a fellow student who’s in need of a life-saving kidney transplant.

“His mom broke her kidney. It kind of makes me feel worried because his mom is important to him like mine is,” student Jenny Lee said.

In November, 14-year-old Michelle Bautista told WCCO about her mom, Neri-Vergara. The mother of three came to the United States illegally from Mexico 17 years ago, not realizing her status could later prevent her from receiving certain medical treatments.

“I don’t her to leave just yet. I still need her. Me and my brothers still need her,” Bautista told WCCO in November.

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She told her former teacher, now principal, Justin Tiarks the same thing.

“I felt so helpless, like there was nothing I could do. So, it means a lot to me that our school community and our teachers have come together to really take care of one of our families,” Tiarks said.

The school is 99-percent free and offers reduced lunch. Tiarks said the families of students who attend don’t have money to give, but they were eager to donate. He believes asking the students to participate and raise money teaches them something the classroom can’t.

“It teaches our students the real value of empathy. We give them the opportunity to really realize that their friends have family members that are struggling and we can do something about that,” Tiarks said.

“If you can learn how to give and help others like you did today, you can change the world,” a teacher said at the school assembly.

The students raised more than $6,000. The school recognized students at an assembly, and donations were given to Neri-Vergara and her family.

“I want to say thank you to everyone for all your support to me and my family. I don’t know how I’m going to re-pay it to everybody. Thank you,” Bautista said.

The principal is challenging others to give. The school started a GoFundMe account to raise money for a transplant for Neri-Vergara.

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She has three family members willing to donate their kidney. Doctors told the family they estimate it will cost $150,000.  Meeting that goal does not guarantee she will get put on the transplant list, but having the finances to pay for it is a first step.

Jennifer Mayerle