By Stan Friedman
RICHLAND, MI (February 14, 2014) — Colin, a 10-year-old boy with a condition similar to Asperger’s syndrome, knows there’s a big surprise coming for his birthday. He has no idea that millions of people around the world are involved.
“He’s so invested in keeping the surprise that when he knows people are talking about it, he’ll cover his ears and walk away and say ‘I can’t hear this,’ ” says his mother, Jennifer, who with her husband and their two children attend New Hope Covenant Church in this small town of less than 1,000 people.
Jennifer set the plan in motion when she created the “Happy Birthday Colin” Facebook page on February 2. She was hoping that maybe a couple hundred people would “like” it as a way of encouraging her son. At the time she wrote:
I am Colin’s mom. I created this page for my amazing, wonderful, challenging son who is about to turn 11 on March 9th. Because of Colin’s disabilities, social skills are not easy for him, and he often acts out in school, and the other kids don’t like him. So when I asked him if he wanted a party for his birthday, he said there wasn’t a point because he has no friends. He eats lunch alone in the office everyday because no one will let him sit with them, and rather than force someone to be unhappy with his presence, he sits alone in the office. So I thought, if I could create a page where people could send him positive thoughts and encouraging words that would be better than any birthday party. Please join me in making my very original son feel special on his day.
She said she would show him the page on his birthday.
Within days, several hundred people had responded. Then the number climbed into the thousands and picked up speed when a local media outlet broadcast the story. That captured the attention of national and international media as far away as Great Britain and Australia.
But it was when the hosts of Good Morning America referenced the story on air Tuesday and said they would be interviewing Jennifer the next day that the numbers soared. The number of likes went from just over 18,000 to more than one million in two days.
As of today, more than 1.8 million people have liked the Facebook page. Their numbers continue to grow by the hundreds every several seconds. In addition to clicking on the “like” button, people have sent gifts and cards from around the world. The Harlem Globetrotters and Detroit Police Department as well as a host of other organizations and sports teams have offered to throw Colin a birthday party.
“It’s humbling to see that this many people want to do something for my son,” Jennifer says.
Ten friends have helped administrate the page, which Jennifer says has been receiving 1,000 personal messages a minute. Many have been from people with autism disorders and parents saying they have had the same experience with their children.
Other parents have written to say that their children who do not have disabilities have cried because they realized for the first time what their own classmates were going through.
Although Jennifer has been humbled, she also has been overwhelmed. “I have hardly slept or eaten for days,” she says.
But knowing that the media exposure is making a difference in other people’s lives has strengthened her, she says. She also wants people to know that her son and others like him have a lot to share.
That includes his faith, which she has learned from. “He had been begging me for years to be baptized. I didn’t think he was ready. I wanted him to wait until he was older, when he would have a better understanding of what it means.”
Then came the day when the school principal was going to discipline several children who had been teasing Colin. But Colin asked the administrator not to follow through with the punishment. Jennifer admits she was frustrated with him. But he told her, just as he explained to the principal, “Jesus forgives them.” He added, “Everyone deserves forgiveness.”
She let him be baptized.
When Colin was six, he appointed himself the church greeter and has since opened the door for everyone on Sunday mornings.
“The church has always been there for us,” Jennifer says. “My son has grown up secure in knowing that the people here love him.”
Jennifer says that when she shows him the Facebook page on March 9, he’ll know others do too.