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Always giving back: 11-year-old a master fundraiser; latest project is for K-9 police dogs

MONTE DRAPER BEMIDJI PIONEER SierraRose Sypult, 11, of Bemidji, is raising money to get bullet-proof vests for K-9 police dogs in Beltrami County. Sypult, who has persevered through several medical challenges, has been recognized several times for her fundraising efforts.

BEMIDJI -- An 11-year-old girl has spent about seven years raising funds 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 K-9 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 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 K-9 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 K-9s 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 funds -- at least $1,000 for each vest -- before she goes in for open heart surgery, which could be as early as spring 2014.

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

Often, those with cleft palate have heart defects, Dusty said, and Sierra Rose 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 years old.

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."

To donate:

Checks supporting SierraRose's K-9 fundraiser can be mailed to:

SierraRose Sypult

6419 Cardinal Road NW

Bemidji, MN 56601

Anyone seeking additional information can contact her at 751-2500.