WINONA LAKE – Through Feb. 16, sales from the Happy Beans program at Jefferson Elementary School will go to help sixth-grader Israel Gagnon get a new wheelchair.
Israel, 12, suffers from spina bifida.
His mother, Stacey Gagnon, said prior to last week, Israel has been struggling with kidney failure. He ended getting septic and going to Riley Hospital for Children. His left kidney and bladder have failed, she said, so Israel will have to have surgery in about three and a half weeks.
Stacey said Israel’s family has been looking for a bigger wheelchair for Israel because he has outgrown his current one. The wheelchair also has to be larger because of medical equipment that will be needed after Israel’s surgery. The cost of the wheelchair will have to be paid out of pocket.
Jefferson Elementary sixth-grader Israel Gagnon (C) poses with law enforcement officers from various Kosciusko County agencies Friday. Photo from the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page
Rachel Jensen, resource teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, said after Israel’s visit to Riley last week the school wanted to support him in a tangible way, so Happy Beans seemed like a good way to raise money to “bless him with a wheelchair.”
“We are trying to raise $6,000 to get him a new wheelchair,” Jensen said. The $6,000 goal should cover the entirety of the cost of the wheelchair. “Obviously, we won’t know to the dollar how much it will be, but it will be very, very close to the amount.”
Israel said he wanted his new wheelchair to be blue, white and black because police officers’ cars have blue, black and white.
The reason why the Happy Beans program is being used as the fundraiser is because Israel is one of the founding members of the program, Jensen said. Part of what Happy Beans does is called kindness projects, where part of what the program makes goes back to students or some of the staff members at the school who may be in need. Jensen said it seemed like a natural way for the school to support Israel.
Every penny raised through Happy Beans through Feb. 16 will go towards Israel’s wheelchair.
Happy Beans’ hours are Monday, 10 to 10:45 a.m.; Tuesday through Feb. 15, 9:15 to 10 a.m.; and Friday, Feb. 16, 8:45 to 10 a.m.
Donations can also be made at any Lake City Bank location under Israel's account.
Stacey said the fundraiser has been “an incredible gift for our family and blessing.”
She said the family has been so blessed by this community.
Stacey said she thinks Israel is a rally point for the community in some aspects because he’s such an amazing kid.
Israel is a junior officer with the Winona Lake Police Department, she said, and he got sworn in at a Winona Lake Town Council meeting a few years ago, so he’s had a relationship with the WLPD for a while.
Israel said it felt good to be an honorary police officer.
“He loves them,” Stacey said.
Pictured (L to R) are Rachel Jensen, resource teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, Jefferson sixth-grader Israel Gagnon and Winona Lake Police Department Joe Bumbaugh. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union
Officers from various agencies in Kosciusko County attended the kickoff event for the fundraiser. When asked how he felt to see all the officers at Jefferson Friday, Israel said it felt great.
Also, WLPD officer Joe Bumbaugh visited Israel at Riley. Bumbaugh went to visit him last Sunday and spent some time with him.
Jefferson Elementary School Principal Joshua Wall said he’s so happy with Jensen’s work. From the inception of the Happy Beans program, it’s been a great program for all kids. To see how the program is now using some of the funds from the kindness program to impact Israel is amazing, he said.
Stacey said the wheelchair would help keep Israel mobile and independent. Getting a new wheelchair would give him the ability to interact with other children on the school’s playground, Wall said.
Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said it is so much fun “to see our community coming together for Israel.”
Jefferson absolutely loves Israel and the school felt this was a way to show its support for him, Hoffert said.
Israel’s smile is infectious and he is a wonderful, happy student and role model “for all of us,” Hoffert said. “And so this is our little way of supporting him and his family during this time.”
Bumbaugh said he works at the school and has known Israel for several years.
“And just knowing what he’s been through in his short lifetime, he’s an extraordinary child to be as social as he is and always has a smile on his face. And we just want to support him and the family.”
Bumbaugh said he kind of feels like once the public meets and gets to know Israel, they’re going to fall in love with Israel and try to help him out a bit.