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Shelby girl gives up horse camp to help tornado victim

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Ella Hoehner, 7, sent her savings to her aunt who was left homeless

By Lisa King

With communities all around the state and even the nation sending massive amounts of donations to help those in Eastern Kentucky displaced by tornadoes, it took one little girl’s contribution to put everything in perspective for her family and friends – and maybe all of us.

Ella Hoehner is 7 years old, and a second-grader at Wright Elementary. Her love of horses has grown so much during her short life that it is legendary in her family.

So it was with amazement and tears that her mother, Beth Hoehner, accepted her daughter’s unselfish gift to her aunt, who was left homeless when a tornado devastated her home in Salyersville.

“She brought her jar of riding money she’s been saving for a year out of her room and walked up and handed it to me, and she said, ‘Mom, I know this is my money for horse camp, and I guess I can’t go now, but I’m OK with that,’” Hoehner said.

“She looked up at me with that sweet smile of hers and said, ‘It’s more important for aunt Melody to have a home.’

“And I wanted to cry; I couldn’t help it.”

So last week, Hoehner took the $42 and sent it to Ella’s great aunt, Melody Conley, who with her husband, Bobby, has been staying with their son’s family since losing their home in the killer tornado of March 2.

There was a note from Ella included, and Conley said when she opened it, it said, ‘Dear Melody, sorry you lost your house, glad your alive, here is 42 dollars, I will send more.’

“When I opened that letter, I went to my knees; it just absolutely floored me,” Conley said. “For that sweet little girl to do something like that for me.…Well, it touched my heart so much, you just can’t imagine.”

Conley said that as bad as losing the house was, it could have been far worse.

“The only thing that saved me is that I had my two grandkids with me,” she said. “If they hadn’t been with me, I probably wouldn’t have left. My grandson, he’s seven, he opened the door and said ‘Nannie, it’s awful calm looking out here.’

“And I said, ‘Get in the car; we’re leaving.’

“We started out for my mom’s house, and it hit fifteen minutes after we left. Then that night, when my husband and my stepson pulled into my mom’s driveway, and they were in my stepson’s truck, I knew then that our house was gone, because my husband would have been in his truck otherwise. But we lost it, too.”

Conley paused, then added, with a catch in her voice, “But Ella, and the love she has shown for me during this terrible time, has put things all into perspective, it really has.”

Ella has been taking riding lessons at Walnut Way Farm for the past two and a half years, and her riding instructor there, Suzanne Human, said she was amazed when she found out what her young student had done.

“She told me that she probably wouldn’t get to come to horse camp and I said, ‘Well, why not, haven’t you been saving your money?’ and she said, ‘Yes, but my aunt’s house got taken by a tornado, so I gave it to her,’” Human said. “There she was, just an itty-bitty thing, and she told me about it just like a grown up.

“She rides once a week and she really loves horses so much, and she didn’t think twice about giving her horse money to someone in need. I just think it’s a great thing she did, especially to be so kind hearted at her age.”

Beth Hoehner said she and her husband, Sam, told Ella they would pay for her riding lesions, but if she wanted to go to horse camp this coming summer, she must save the money for it herself.

So Ella has been diligently saving every penny of her allowance, in addition to money she has received from relatives for her birthday and Christmas.

“She absolutely wouldn’t spend a dime of it on anything else; she wanted to go to horse camp so badly,” her mother said. “It’s all she’s been talking about for a long time.”

When she was asked why she gave up something that meant so much to her, Ella said:

“When I heard that she lost her house, I started to realize that helping other people is better than keeping it all for yourself.

“I’m a little sad about horse camp, but I’m glad I gave it to her, because it will help her, and helping my aunt Melody was the right thing to do.”