Days after a Whiteland Community High School student was critically injured in a car accident, friends, family, classmates and neighbors started raising money to help pay for his recovery.
In the months since the accident, Michael Williams’ family has racked up more than $1 million in medical expenses, from hospital costs to bills for physical and occupational therapy. Williams is in a minimally conscious state, meaning he doesn’t speak and doesn’t appear aware of what’s happening around him. His parents have insurance, but they must figure out what insurance will and will not cover.
Not all of the funds raised by the community made it to his family.
Williams’ mother, Mandie Hendrickson, started hearing about fundraisers being conducted for her son shortly after the accident. She received donations after local restaurants pledged a portion of sales on certain nights and after other families made and sold
T-shirts to support the teen.
But at least one group that sold T-shirts to benefit Williams never made any contributions to the family. Hendrickson doesn’t know how much they raised or where that money went, but she knows her family hasn’t been able to use it to pay existing medical bills or to save for Williams’ future rehabilitation costs.
When a tragedy happens, residents in local communities have donated thousands to help. A church and residents in Nineveh conducted fundraisers to support the Slusher-Abbott family after a mother and two children were killed in a house fire. Multiple fund-
raisers and benefits have been conducted for families battling cancer and other illnesses.
And in the month-and-a-half since two Franklin teens died and one was critically injured in a dam incident, residents and students have donated more than $57,000.
The money has been pledged to help with the funeral expenses for Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne and medical costs of Sarah McLevish, who were swept over the dam at the Big Blue River in June.
Franklin school employees have managed many of the donations that have been made for the teens and their families and have been careful to account for every dollar, executive director of finance Jeff Mercer said. And businesses including Time Out Bar and Grille, which has conducted fundraisers for the Franklin teens, know that they have an obligation to give all they raise after a benefit.
When people give money to help neighbors, friends or strangers in need, they expect that the groups coordinating fundraisers are handling the money responsibly and give all of the donations to the people who are hurting, Time Out co-owner Chris Snow said.
“If you say you’re going to do it, you’re expected to do it,” Snow said.
Time Out organized a motorcycle ride for the families of the teens and raised about $11,500. Snow had participants write checks to the Franklin Family Fund, which is being managed by the school district, and any cash contributions were given directly to the families. She said the organizers also kept a running tally of how much was raised so that everyone knew how much was being collected.
Later this year, Time Out plans to organize motorcycle rides to help raise money for diabetes and for cancer, and Snow knows that organizers have to be as open and transparent as possible about all of the money that’s contributed. If the public doesn’t trust the organizers, then they can’t raise money for anyone, she said.
“We care, and we want to help,” Snow said.
People started making donations and setting up fundraisers for Moran, Chadbourne and McLevish days after the tragedy at dam, and Franklin school officials set up the fund for the teens so that people knew where they could send money. Creating the fund also allowed the school district and the teens’ families to closely monitor how much was being given to help.
So far, Franklin has written 13 checks from the family fund, totaling about $22,500, which was spent on funeral and medical costs, Mercer said. Every week or two, Mercer updates Franklin’s superintendent and school board on the account’s balance, and the teens’ families also can see how the money in the fund is being spent if they have questions, Mercer said.
“To the degree that we can, we’ve got an accounting for every dime that’s been taken in and been spent,” Mercer said.