His gut-wrenching response to her question broke his mother’s heart. She wasn’t content to leave the situation alone, so she looked outside the box for a solution.
What happened next could potentially change his life.
Colin is a young man who lives in Michigan. He is affected by a disability similar to Asperger’s Syndrome that causes him to miss social cues sometimes, and he struggles to get along with his peers. Rather than face the rejection that often accompanies being misunderstood, he routinely eats lunch alone in the office at his school. When his mom asked him about five weeks before his eleventh birthday if he wanted to have a party, he said that there would be no point because he had no friends.
Colin’s mom, Jennifer, knows that he gets along better with adults than kids his own age, so when she heard the reason why he didn’t want to have a party, she came up an idea that was nothing short of brilliant.
She created a Facebook page called Happy Birthday Colin and shared it with all of her friends. Her hope was that some would take a minute to wish Colin a good day, and when she showed it to him on his birthday; he would understand that people cared.
The page got 18 likes in the hour after it was created. Then the miracle began.
Jennifer’s friends began sharing the page with their friends and it spread like wildfire on dry brush. With 7000 likes in the first week, the story got picked up by a local news station. A few days after that, it had a spot on Good Morning America. When Josh Elliot, one of the anchors of GMA told the story, he passed along the news that the page had 18,000 likes, and he issued the country a challenge. “Let’s make it 100,000 likes by the end of the day.” He said, “This is Good Morning America, and we can do this today.”
I first heard about the story several days after it had aired on national television. By the time I found the page on Facebook because I wanted to send my own good wishes to Colin, 1.9 million people from around the world had done the same. By the time Colin’s birthday dawned on March 9th, he had 2.1 million friends. Everyone from soccer moms to stand up comedians and grade school students to sorority sisters had taken the time to wish Colin well. Some people asked permission to be Colin’s pen pal, while some other teachers and parents told his mom that they were using his story to encourage their kids to be more inclusive with each other despite their differences. Some of the messages Colin was sent brought me to tears. One example was from a woman who has a son with a disability. She said:
Hi Colin, we wish you a Happy 11th Birthday kiddo! We hope you have a great day. Did you know that some of the smartest and most rich people in the world went through the same problems and now everyone wants to be their friend? Keep your head up high and be yourself and people will like you for who you are. You’re an awesome kid. Your friends in Pennsylvania- Debi(a mom who understands), David(who is 8 and autistic and does not speak) and Abby (who is 5 and learned since the day she was born to understand and love all different kinds of people no matter how different they are).
Other people shared their own journey with a disability, and many told Colin to keep his head up and never stop being exactly who he is.
And Colin’s friends didn’t stop there.
At the request of people on Facebook, his mom got a post office box, and thousands of people sent him cards and gifts. He was the guest of honor recently at a Kalamazoo Wings professional hockey game and spent his birthday at Disney World when they surprised he and his family with a free trip. Hopefully, he will be reading the messages on the facebook page and feeling the love for years to come.
Why does this story mean so much to me? Because I spent the majority of my high school career eating lunch in the bathroom or with my wheelchair parked up against a cement column in the cafeteria because I didn’t want to feel the sting of rejection from peers who didn’t understand. I got along much better with adults than with kids my own age, and many days I felt like I didn’t have any friends. I remember exactly how that felt because in many ways I was Colin. Some of those issues linger for me still…
But there is another reason why this story touches me so deeply. I think we are all Colin. I don’t think there is a person on the planet that has not struggled to fit in at some point, or wished they had more friends or wanted to be more understood. Everyone marches to their own drummer in some way, and rather than accept that their music is different, some people bully those whose beat is not their own.
In this case, people responded positively. Doing so didn’t take a lot of time and very little effort, but it made a difference. More than two million people decided to stand up and tell a boy who didn’t think he had any friends that he was wrong. And to me, that is simply wonderful.
Now that his birthday has passed, Colin’s mom is changing the name of the Facebook page to Colin’s Friends and has asked that everyone who wished him well continue to stay in touch.
So, if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to get on Facebook and send Colin a message of support.
And the next time you see a child who is isolated or picked on because of a difference, please take a minute to tell them how great they are.
Doing so could, quite possibly, change their life.