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The 'Melissa Project'

Perham middle school student Melissa Barvels was surprised for her 12th birthday with a gift of a laptop computer--thanks to more than two dozen area donors. Melissa was born with spina bifida, a defect that involves incomplete development of the spinal cord.

Melissa Barvels was all smiles on her 12th birthday, when she received a laptop computer as a gift.

But then, smiling is nothing unusual for Melissa, a Perham Prairie Wind Middle School student who is afflicted with spina bifida.

"What is special about Melissa is her beautiful smile," said her grandfather, LeRoy Johnson. "She is not a complainer and a very special 12-year-old."

An informal coalition of folks donated about $800 in order to provide her with a laptop.

Jerry Pyles was the technical guy behind what came to be known as the "Melissa Project." After money was collected from two dozen private donors and the Perham Lions Club, Pyles and Myron Lueders "prepped" the laptop, and Lueders delivered it March 20--on Melissa's birthday. To top it off, a software vendor, Royal Discount, donated a free copy of Microsoft Office Pro.

"You can't miss the beautiful smile," commented Pyles.

Melissa is the daughter of Linda and Adrian Barvels.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings.