When Sand Lake, Michigan’s Ian Christensen was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, his uncle with the same illness offered some advice.
“You can’t let the diabetes control you,” Ian’s uncle Aaron, who lost his eyesight and a kidney to diabetes in 1996, told the then 4 year old. “You have to control it.”
Christensen took the message to heart, and two years later he’s relying on those wise words to overcome the limitations of his condition. Because Christensen’s volatile blood-sugar levels means he’s prone to medical emergencies, officials in the Tri-County Area School District determined he could not ride the bus to school unattended, ABC News reports.
The situation, along with the boy’s pleas for a new dog, sparked an idea to send Christensen to school with an alert dog, which are trained to detect changes in blood sugar well in advance of complications.
“I mentioned it to Ian … and we said, ‘if we’re gonna get a dog, let’s get one that is trained,’” Ian’s mother, Katrina Christensen, told the television station.
The family researched alert dogs and spoke with another family in the school district raising money for an alert dog. The Christensens soon realized the animal would cost roughly $25,000, and broke the news to Ian that it could take several years before they could save up enough money.
Undeterred, Ian and his family started selling lemonade and vegetables from their garden to raise funds. They also sold pumpkins, a family tradition dating back decades. The youngster wasn’t shy about sharing his mission, and soon folks were dropping off $50 bills for his special gourds.
Katrina Christensen shared Ian’s story on Facebook, as well, and within days donations poured in. Supporters online encouraged the family to launch a fundraising page and they set a goal of $20,000.
Katrina told ABC News she “wasn’t prepared at all” for the overwhelming generosity.
“The first night we raised almost $2,000, and I said ‘I’ll be happy if it’s over $2,500 tomorrow.’ And when we woke up it was $15,000!” she said.
“You can’t even imagine what it feels like to have so many people show you so much support and love,” she said. “There’s one person who donated $1,000. I don’t know who this person is. I’ve never met this person. But someone felt it in their hearts to donate $1,000 to a boy they never met. How do you even fathom that?”
Ian’s campaign quickly raised more than enough money for an alert dog, and the experience convinced the youngster to pay it forward.
“Any money left over,” Katrina Christensen told ABC, “Ian plans to donate so that another child like him can get a dog or a pump or whatever it is to make diabetes easier because he knows how hard it is.”
Ian’s story contributes to the much broader habits and traditions in society that ultimately compel people to take action to help others.
James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, pointed out in his book “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America”:
What empathy we feel may help us understand someone else’s needs, and even feel the desire to help that person. But without embedded habits and moral traditions, empathy does not tell us what to do, nor when, nor how.
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues examines how character education can ensure students are “Flourishing from the Margins” by developing a sense of purpose in young students, particularly those like Ian who struggle to fit into traditional schools.