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When Toriann Wipperman arrived at basketball camp last year, she was scared. The 11-year old from Depew moved into the dorms at Hilbert College for the weeklong experience and didn’t know anyone there.

“My dad told me to make a new friend each day,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sarah Johnson and Zipporah Barrett came to camp as buddies from Wilson. But they, too, had a goal in mind for the week.

“Sarah was really my main friend and my mom always told me you should open yourself up,” the 14-year-old Barrett said. “So when we came to camp, we thought it was a good chance to go and meet other people.”

And so one day Johnson and Barrett saw Wipperman in the gym. They approached her and talked to her. They invited her to hang out in their dorm room. And soon Wipperman didn’t feel so alone or out of place.

“Last year when I came, Sarah and Zipporah were really nice to me,” Wipperman said.

A few days later, Wipperman heard the news that Johnson, 14, had been killed in a propane explosion at her home in Wilson on July 24, 2012.

Wipperman cried for days. Her new friend, the girl who helped make her feel comfortable and confident in a new setting, had been tragically taken from her life. And she wanted to turn her grief into something constructive.

“She was really upset and sad by it and said she really wanted to do something,” said her mother, Julie.

Julie told her daughter to pray on it. “Something will come to you.”

“I don’t want Sarah to be forgotten,” Tori had told her mother. “She was such a good friend to me.”

A week later, the idea came to Tori. She wanted to create a friendship scholarship fund so that other girls would have the opportunity to come to Hilbert’s camp, stay in the dorms, and make new friends.

Wipperman contacted Sarah’s parents to ask their permission to start a friendship scholarship in her daughter’s name. They agreed. And then Wipperman got to work fundraising. She sold candy bars until she had enough money to cover the $365 tuition for one camper for the weeklong residential camp at Hilbert.

And she decided the first recipient should be Barrett.

“I was really surprised and I was really touched that I influenced her,” Barrett said. “I was just so put aback that she even thought of this and I was really grateful. I think Sara would be really grateful and happy that her name keeps going, that her legacy is still here.”

“Sarah and Zapporah are just beautiful girls. I mean their parents did an amazing job raising them,” Julie said. She then turned to address Barrett directly.

“You and Sarah came to camp and you extended yourself, just by letting Tori hang out in your dorm room or eating breakfast with her,” Julie said. “You didn’t know that Tori was so reserved. You opened your heart to Tori and made her feel welcomed. You can touch the life of someone else. What you did touched Tori. What Sarah did touched Tori and because of that, Sarah’s not going to be forgotten.”

Wipperman will announce next year’s award recipient today at camp after taking recommendations from camp counselors and taking in her own observations. Her plan is to make this an annual scholarship and she continues to raise money to support the fund.



email: amoritz@buffnews.com