Mishap met with generosity for autistic boy

A young Gilroy boy with autism who relies on an Apple iPad to help him read, spell and communicate with family members nearly had his holiday season ruined when he accidentally left the device behind at a local restaurant Monday night.

Instead, he got an early present thanks to a few “angels,” family members say; and his classmates at Las Animas Elementary School just might reap the benefits of the generosity as well.

Joey Lawrence, 7, and his mother were on their way home after eating dinner at Mimi’s Cafe when she realized neither had grabbed his valued gadget on their way out the door. Hurriedly, they returned to the restaurant, only to find the tablet computer was nowhere to be found, and no one could offer clues as to where it might be.

Joey’s family tried to locate and even deactivate the iPad using a tracking system, but they learned that feature had inadvertently been switched off before the device was swiped. It was looking more and more likely that a passing Grinch had triggered a depressing scene devoid of any holiday glee.

“At that point, I said, ‘OK, we have to start fundraising,” said family friend Rommey Kim Walsh. Friends and family took to the Internet, posting notices on Craigslist and Facebook asking whomever had the iPad to return it – no questions asked, and offered a $100 reward.

What happened was even better. In just 24 hours, friends were able to raise approximately $1,100 through an online PayPal account. With the donations, not only will Joey receive a new iPad, but so will his special needs classmates, who will share a second device thanks to the leftover contributions.

“The power of networking,” Walsh said.

As for the family: They’re floored.

“The last 24 hours have been really kind of amazing. The family is really kind of in shock,” said Michelle Lawrence, Joey’s grandmother. “They can’t say thank you enough to those who stepped up and helped. It certainly wasn’t anything they expected.”

Darren Anderson, an insurance agent whose clientele includes Joey’s grandmother, posted the Craigslist ad Tuesday afternoon, offering cash from his own pocket as a reward for the iPad’s return.

Anderson, who works at a State Farm Insurance office in Cupertino, says he’s never met the family, but, “I had to do something. It was an opportunity to help.”

“Especially with a special needs child,” Anderson added. “How could you not do something?”

The iPad has been extremely helpful in bringing along Joey’s communication skills, his grandmother said. Joey doesn’t speak much, she said, but he’ll be able to continue improving thanks to the quick donations.

“He has verbal skills, but he’s kind of limited,” she said. “We used to get one-word answers. Now we’re getting whole sentences.”

For now, it’s Joey’s family who’s having trouble explaining what they’ve witnessed.

“Especially this time of year. I don’t know, you can’t find the words,” Michelle Lawrence said. “‘Thank you’ just doesn’t seem like enough.”