TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) - There is an incredible effort underway to help people struggling in our own communities as well as those on the other side of the world. And it all started with the dreams of one 17-year-old boy from Tomah.
News 8's Mike Thompson recently traveled to Uganda, Africa to get a first hand look at the lives that are being changed and will document the journey in a one-hour special on WKBT, "Tears to Water."
Tomah is known for several things, of course, its cranberries and the place where the "I" divides. However, there's one person who represents the spirit of this community more than most. His name is Jesse Parker.
With his bright blonde hair and a smile that lit up a room, Jesse was everyone's friend, and the kind of teenage son every parent hoped for.
"He just loved to do things. He was always including people," said Jesse's dad Brad.
He was also the student every teacher wanted in their classroom. "Kind, caring, goofy, compassionate," said Tomah High School history teacher and Parker family friend Amy White.
Jesse loved to run and was part of the Tomah track and cross country teams. He left his mark there, too. "He wasn't our fastest runner. He never won any races, but he was the most enthusiastic person. He was so kind he would cheer for other people from other teams. That's what I remember most about Jesse," said his high school long-distance track and cross country coach Becky Baures.
Wise beyond his years, Jesse rarely thought of himself. He was always trying to find a way to help others. "He cared about others. He had a lot of dreams. They were never to the prom king or the quarterback - but how he could make a difference," said Jesse's mom Jen.
And at just 17, Jesse's dreams to make a difference started big. After high school, he was going to attend UW-Madison and study sustainable engineering, which included two years in the Peace Corps. He eventually wanted to provide clean water to people in Africa.
"He'd say, 'Mom if I'm not going to do it - who will?' And I think that is pretty amazing at 17 to figure that out."
In the summer of 2009, before Jesse's senior year of high school, the Parker's headed out for a family vacation to Florida. "Loved to take family vacations on a beach somewhere. The kids loved playing in the sand," said Brad.
Little did they know, their happiness on their last day at the beach would be taken away from them in an instant.
Jen says, "you worry about your kids driving, going out, you just never think them in the backseat texting with their girlfriend is going to be the last moment with them."
Jesse Parker was killed July 4th, 2009. But what has happened since is pretty remarkable.
You can watch this entire journey that takes us to Africa as family and friends carry on Jesse's dreams in a one hour special called "Tears to Water." It airs Monday, Aug. 11th at 6:30 p.m on WKBT.
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