140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Monday, May 18, 2009

Shriners honor determination, dignity of teen She helps others during struggle to overcome rare birth defect

Peter Harriman, Argus Leader • pharrima@argusleader.com • May 17, 2009

When Megan walked onto the stage Saturday at the El Riad Shrine Spring Ceremonial, a fantastic assortment of men in black tuxedos and red fezzes, pantaloons and turbans, Hawaiian shirts and Panama hats and clown regalia immediately popped up and gave her a standing ovation.

Moments later, the diminutive 18-year-old was serenaded by the El Riad Chanters.

And none of this is the unusual part. That would be Johnson's imposing résumé.

Since 2000, when she was 8, she has distributed homemade blankets tied with a ribbon and a note that says "Remember, someone cares" to Seattle's homeless. She has raised thousands of dollars for this and other charitable efforts through her nonprofit organizations, Megan's Mission and Kids Helping Kids. She has written two children's books and received about a dozen prominent awards for philanthropy. She still has a couple of surgeries to go at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Ore. on top of the 27 she already has had to repair birth defects.

"I'm still a work in progress," she told the El Riad Shriners on Saturday.

Megan was in Sioux Falls this week as the Shrine Ambassador for the El Riad ceremonial. Saturday, Shrine Potentate Jack Weibel said her effect on the organization goes far beyond that, and she "does more for us in letting us know why we support the hospitals."

At El Riad, she was made an honorary member of the steel drum band known as the Oriental Band, and she joined the group's clown unit in entertaining children at hospitals in Sioux Falls.

El Riad spokesman Tom Johnson said, "The infusion of her energy into us is absolutely incredible. Meg's story is phenomenal."

Megan, born in South Korea, was adopted as an infant. Early on, she had a cleft palate repaired and surgery to restore her hearing. Then a rare birth defect emerged that caused the bones of her face to develop at a different rate from the rest of her body. It's been responsible for the dozens of surgeries to repair her face, and it is the reason that as a grade-schooler she was taunted by classmates.

But Megan now says that "being harassed in school made me a stronger person," and it gave her an empathy for the homeless. That resulted in distributing blankets in a relief effort that Megan said her mother figured would last a couple of weeks but continues today.

Her experience at the Shrine hospital also prompted her to write and illustrate the first of her two children's books, "Clowns Make a Difference," that recounts how a Shriner clown, Punkin, eased her fear in the hospital.

Megan sails into all her philanthropic projects with a spirited confidence.

"I'm a very determined kid," she said. "If I say it, I'm gonna do it."

Reach reporter Peter Harriman at 575-3615.

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