By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw
WINONA LAKE — A strong turnout of residents and law enforcement helped kick off a fundraiser for a Jefferson Elementary student who needs a new wheelchair.
Israel, 12, was born with Spina Bifida in Bulgaria and placed in an orphanage where he had very limited contact and or development.
He was adopted five years ago by a Winona Lake couple, Darren and Stacey Gagnon.
Rachel Jensen, a special education teacher at Jefferson, has worked with Israel over the years, and organized the benefit through the school’s Happy Beans money maker program run by students.
The school saw a large turnout Friday morning that attracted people from the community, school staff, a large contingent of police officers and TV crews from Fort Wayne and South Bend.
Jensen said Friday morning she’s confident the week-long fundraiser (and other efforts) can meet and exceed the $6,000 needed to buy a new wheelchair.
“I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll be able to raise the $6,000 because of our supportive community and just so many people that are willing and really want to truly bless Israel,” she said.
“If we raise more than the $6,000, we’ll work toward buying him a bike that he can utilize and roam around the community with,” she said.
Jenson is one of many who are enamored with his resilience and endless smiles.
“He means the world to me,” she said.
Numerous staff, including teachers have worked closely with him since he was a second-grader, she said.
“He has a relationship with all of them and they’ve all poured into him in significant ways to allow for him to be where he is today,” she said.
His outlook is contagious.
“He exudes joy. For a boy who has gone through the amount of things he’s gone through in his lifetime, for him to be so joyful — just truly — is a miracle in my mind,” she said.
Lake City Bank has opened up an account and Jensen said a gofundme account will be established in the next day or so.