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By Bethany Wesley, Published August 24 2013

11-year-old Bemidji girl is master fundraiser

BEMIDJI, Minn. – An 11-year-old girl has spent about seven years raising money and awareness for a variety of efforts. SierraRose Sypult’s latest venture is to raise enough funds to buy bullet-proof vests for Kayos and Jessie, Beltrami County’s two police dogs.

“It really saddens me to see a fallen hero pass away because the K-9 was not wearing the proper protection,” she wrote in an email to the Bemidji Pioneer.

SierraRose, an incoming sixth-grader at Bemidji Middle School, long has dedicated herself to charity work. She thrice has been named a Kohl’s Kid in-store winner – nominated by a still-unknown supporter – for her contributions to the Bemidji community.

Born with a severe bilateral cleft lip and palate, SierraRose was returning from a visit to the cleft clinic in Minneapolis seven years ago when she mentioned the visit would have been more fun had she received some kind of token while she was there.

Her mother, Dusty, encouraged her to do something about it.

“She said, ‘I’m only 4 years old. What can I do?’ ” Dusty recalled. “I told her, ‘A lot.’ ”

So, SierraRose began raising money and collecting books for kids who visit the clinic.

Last year, SierraRose donated more than $3,500 worth of toys and gifts to the cleft clinic, Dusty noted.

This year, she began focusing her attentions on the K-9s.

SierraRose said she was struck this winter by the story of Kody, a St. Paul police dog shot and killed in the line of duty.

After confirming with the local sheriff’s department that its dogs do not have bullet-proof vests, the 11-year-old began door-knocking.

“I have begun collecting donations for our four-legged heroes that risk their lives for us,” SierraRose wrote in the email.

Her current effort marked the first time area residents questioned her, skeptical of the fundraising effort, even threatening to call police.

That was OK, though, since she was raising money for law enforcement. Now, SierraRose carries with her a signed letter from Ernie Beitel, chief Beltrami County deputy, commending her for the effort and explaining to potential supporters that the county’s two police dogs do not currently have body armor.

“I applaud her endeavor and tenaciousness to go out and get this done,” Beitel said. “We certainly appreciate it.”

SierraRose wants to raise the money – at least $1,000 for each vest – before she goes in for open heart surgery, which could be as early as next spring.

The tween, who any day now will go in for a four-in-one surgery for speech, ear tubes and eye teeth, also needs open heart surgery.

Often, those with cleft palate have heart defects, Dusty said, and SierraRose was found to have a growth on her left aorta valve that she supposedly was not going to have to address until she was about 30.

Unfortunately, this spring she missed nearly a month of school due to pneumonia, and her physicians determined that she needs the heart surgery sooner rather than later.

SierraRose, talking outside her home beyond the Bemidji city limits, more or less shrugged off her upcoming surgeries, preferring instead to talk about her animals, including her special-needs dog that she got about six years ago, her pig and her deer.

“I want to be a vet” when I grow up, she said.

For big or small animals?

“Both,” she said, grinning. “I just love animals.”