BOWERSTON – “I thought I was going to pass out for a second.”
That was Christa Balder’s first reaction. Her next impulse was to send for her husband Jeremy so that he would be by her side as Brad Eubanks and Brad Piroli of Atlas Energy presented the family with a $10,000 check towards an epilepsy service dog for their 14-month-old daughter Elliana.
Insistent that the focus remain on Elliana and not on their generous donation, the men from Atlas and their co-conspirator, Mayor Bob Hendricks of Scio, had pulled Balder aside from the busy fundraiser being held Sunday at Bowerston’s Western Grille. Hendricks beamed as Eubanks, Vice President of Land for Atlas, explained to the shocked couple that “Mayor Bob told us all about your efforts to raise funds for a service dog and we would like to make a $10,000 contribution.”
Having presented the Balders with the check, Eubanks and Piroli wished the family best of luck with Elliana and her service dog and modestly slipped away into the night. Word spread quickly through the still booming fundraiser that the goal for the evening would not be just met but exceeded. By the time the well-attended dinner and auction was over, over $6000 had been raised through community support, and Elliana’s service dog was paid in full, with more than $3000 in extra funds that will be donated to other children in need.
“The organization that trains the service dogs, 4 Paws for Agility, will be so excited,” said Balder. “There are a few kids who have been struggling for quite some time to hit their goal, but guess what, our extra money is going to help them get their dog. I guess a few of them had kind of given up hope. I am so glad that we can be the ones to make it happen for them. We are feeling very, very blessed.”
The Balders soon returned to working the benefit dinner, joining the many community volunteers who hustled around serving a steady stream of contributors who purchased meals to help Elliana reach her goal. “It was very nice to see so many caring people come out and give their time to help out and so many others come out and enjoy the meal,” said volunteer Gerri Toole. “The meal provided by the Western Grille was wonderful.”
“The benefit went great!” added volunteer and family friend April Foster. “It felt so good to help with it all and the turnout was amazing! I think we were all brought to tears multiple times by the miracle that took place and the wonderful support that was shown today. It amazes me how a small community could pull together this much and make miracles happen!”
When the dinner and auction finally came to an end, volunteers had served 290 meals, and between the dinner, the vendors, and the auction, community members had chipped in $6,557 to Elliana’s fund. Christa Balder said she had so many people to thank. “If you said a prayer, a kind word, donated money or goods, made a dessert, or joined us at the event, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “You have changed a child’s life for the better and a family’s life forever. I am more proud than ever to live in this community. I would especially like to thank Atlas. It was the most amazing surprise ever and we are so honored that you chose to support us and our cause.”
Balder added, “And I need to add a great big thank you to Oak Pointe Veterinary Services in Dover, who have donated all the veterinary care, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick protection needed for life for our new four-legged family member.”
“I would like to start a foundation called E.L.L.I.E.,” she explained. “It stands for Embracing Little Lives Impacted by Epilepsy. A lot of foundations do not recognize epilepsy as a disability and for some you must be three years old in order to get assistance. I really want to help other families that struggle with the many stresses and expenses of childhood epilepsy. We want to give back.”
More about this amazing community effort can be found in this weeks print edition of the Harrison News-Herald.