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Students Surprise Blind Classmate

The following podcast was recorded for use by customers of Minnesota’s State Services for the Blind. You can get more information about State Services for the Blind and the services it offers by going to www (dot) mnssb (dot) org. I’m Stuart Holland.

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“Students surprise blind classmate with incredible Christmas gift,” this is from The Bay City Times, in Michigan, and was originally published on December 18, 2015, and it’s written by Andrew Dodson.

MONITOR TOWNSHIP, MI — Brennan Draves has gone through his entire life unable to see the world in, front of him. But it wasn't the 10-year-old's disability that blinded him on Thursday, Dec. 17.

It was love.

While gripping his white cane and sitting in front of his classmates at Bay City's Mackensen Elementary, the fifth-grade student listened intently as his peers read a prepared script, revealing their big secret.

Proving that the holiday season is more about giving than receiving, students at the elementary school raised more than $7,000 in only four days to purchase their blind classmate a BrailleNote computer, allowing him to read, type, email and most importantly, learn.

As the news sunk in, Brennan nervously crossed his legs, rested his chin on his right hand and lowered his head toward his blue Converse sneakers and grass-stained jeans. When one of his peers read the school raised enough money to buy his very own BrailleNote that he could bring anywhere with him and keep through the summer and beyond, the students also learned a new lesson.

"Do you guys know what tears of joy are?" their teacher Tracy McMartin asked.

If they didn't, they quickly learned. Brennan's bright eyes welled up as his best friend Alfonso Ramirez guided him toward his mom Lindsay Goss for a long hug. Disbelief. Gratitude. Excitement. Struggling to express himself, the 10-year-old called it the best Christmas gift he has ever received.

His mom and step-father, having been in on the secret, thought they would be prepared for the moment, but emotions got the best of them, too. The cost of the special computer falls in line with a used car, and it's a purchase his family never thought they would be able to afford as their son heads to middle school next year.

"We were thinking it was something we could buy when he goes to college," his mom said. "This is just absolutely incredible."

The money was raised using the crowd-funding site GoFundMe.com. McMartin said her students wanted to do something kind for Christmas and felt helping one of their classmates out was the best idea.

Within minutes of the campaign going live on Wednesday, Dec. 9, a $25 donation rolled in. Then another. And another. When McMartin woke up the next morning, the campaign was at more than $3,000.

"I couldn't believe it," the teacher said. "The generosity from this school and community completely blew me away."

The campaign also included a heart warming video of Brennan's classmates reading reasons why he's so important to their school.

Brennan already is well-versed in using a BrailleNote. The Bay City school district owns the one he uses in the classroom and at home today, but it's limited. He can't really use the Internet on it due to district restrictions and come summer, it stays at the school.

Having his own BrailleNote, which is expected to arrive after the new year, will allow him to email, use a planner, play music, read books and type through an innovative word processor. That's a good thing, as the 10-year-old, who reads at a high school level and is into fantasy novels, currently is busy penning his own story.

"I've read a little bit of it and it's really good," his friend Alfonso said. "When it's published, I would buy it."

The bumpy keys on the bottom of the BraillePad are refreshing constantly with content that Brennan feels. He then moves up and down the braille keyboard to type and communicate. When he's done taking a test for a class, he tells the BrailleNote to print off his answers and hands the copy to his teacher.

The campaign actually raised some additional money that's going to be used to purchase software and a special backpack to lug around the computer and his textbooks.

Carrying his books isn't easy. The braille version of a standard classroom textbook is about 12 times bigger. A math textbook is even larger.

Despite his disability, Brennan excels. As he continues to grow, he says he gets around easier and lives a more normal life.

"I can't see anything, but I can feel the different light over my eyes," he said. "It's a sixth sense."

His teachers say he embraces his blindness and uses it as motivation.

"His attitude is inspirational," said Shannan Suchyta, a classroom aide who has helped Brennan since he was in kindergarten. "He's always eager to learn, and he's just so smart."

What may be even more impressive than the generous giving is the fact that 330 kids under the age of 12 managed to keep it a secret for more than a week.

"Is that why so many random people were saying hi to me in the halls this week?" Brennan asked aloud.

Probably so, but can you blame them?

"I've never seen so many kids excited about giving a gift," McMartin said. "We have a lot of great people in this community."

Again, that article was “Students surprise blind classmate with incredible Christmas gift,”

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