Dylan Snyder is only 11, but he knew he had to do something to help a little girl in need.
A fifth-grader at Willard Elementary School in South Elgin, Dylan spearheaded a spaghetti dinner and auction fundraiser last month for the girl, a first-grader named Maria Serban, 6.
Kids at school were told that Maria has a form of arthritis that is rare in children, Dylan said.
"I don't really know her," he said. "I heard that she went to the hospital because it was that bad. I thought I could help."
The school's student leadership, which includes Dylan, had already raised $1,300 through a "Willard Cares for Maria" coin drive in late January, Willard Interim Principal Sue Welu said.
"They heard about this, and they decided they wanted to help out the family," she said.
Additionally, another $1,700 was raised at a pancake dinner held in early February at South Elgin Community United Methodist Church, Welu said. Teachers helped deliver food, she added.
But Dylan felt the need to do more, so he asked his great-grandfather, Leo Snyder, for advice.
"I said, 'Can you help me put on a fundraiser for this little girl?' " Dylan said.
Leo Snyder, a past district governor for the South Elgin Lions Club, suggested the spaghetti dinner, which was held March 13 at the club.
"(Dylan) came to me and asked me, and I told him how to do it," Leo Snyder said. "He's the one who did it all -- we just helped him out."
Dylan said he enlisted the help of other kids -- mostly Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts he knows -- and adults, getting together a team of about 30 people. The event raised about $3,800, and more checks are still arriving in the mail, Leo Snyder said.
Dylan also sold Butter Braids pastries at school and during the event to raise more money.
"We made a lot of money," Dylan said. "I feel great, because now I'm going to know that a little girl is going to be a lot healthier and better enough to go to school. She can enjoy the nice weather."
One of the medications prescribed for Maria is very expensive, Welu said.
"The parents were vacillating whether or not to purchase it," she said. "That's when the school got involved."
Maria and her mother came to Dylan's spaghetti dinner, which was a wonderful surprise, Welu said. She added she didn't know how the girl is doing now.
Dylan's example shows how caring kids can be, Welu said.
"I've always said that, whenever you can give the students a cause, they will step up and make sure they help out others."
Maria, her brother, Victor, 3½, and her mother, Elena Serban were on hand Wednesday night to share dinner with the Lions Club members and accept the check from Dylan.
Dylan said the best part of the evening Wednesday was giving the check to Maria and her mother and seeing the smiles on both their faces "with a lot of joy and excitement."
"That was the best part of my day today," Dylan said. "I just feel really good about it."
When asked what she thought of Dylan, Maria turned to face him and said, "I like him. I would say, thank you, Dylan, for all the great help you've given us, (and) all the care everybody's giving me."
"We are overwhelmed by all the attention, and support and help," Elena Serban added, with tears welling up in her eyes.
Growing up in Romania and raised by a single mother with limited income, Elena Serban said they could only take care of themselves.
"We are not used to somebody else -- strangers -- helping us," she said. "We were raised differently, and now I can see there are different people in the world, there are people who help other people, even though they don't know (each other)."
"And now, I have a reason to teach my children to be different," she added, "and we are looking to see them accomplish at least what this boy, Dylan, accomplished."
• Daily Herald photographer Laura Stoecker contributed to this report.