Friends and Strangers Help Family Bounce Back After Storm Destroys Birthday Present

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ANKENY, Iowa — Audra and Blaine Cawelti have their hands full.

“I have two boys, they’re toddlers. I’ve got an almost 5-year-old Gunner and he his nonverbal autistic,” says Audra. “He’s a runner. ‘Gunner the runner’ is what all of his teachers have called him for years. I also have Archer. He’ll be four in just a couple of months and he is atypical.”

With Gunner’s birthday coming up, his parents decided to buy a gift that would keep the two boys busy.

“We saw that at Sam’s Club they had the trampolines back in stock so we ran and got one on Saturday,” said Cawelti.

Within hours, the energetic boys were jumping away.

“It wears them out,” states Cawelti. “It’s so nice that like I go outside, and we have a pretty good size pool in the back but now they have options.”

Then came the derecho.

“Less than 30 hours later, that storm came and just knocked it over, under, and down the street hitting people’s houses, a fence. So we’re dealing with that as well,” explains Cawelti. “We literally watched it go, just woosh, just up. Your heart breaks watching something you spent a lot of money on to just be destroyed.”

Cawelti says even the young kids knew their new toy was trashed.

“It was devastating and having the boys kind of witness that, that kind of breaks your heart seeing it’s gone.”

Like many others, Audra shared pictures of the damage online.

“I posted on Facebook because like everyone they’re like ‘Oh my God this storm’ and what it did to your house and what not. I told them about the trampoline.”

Some regulars at Cawelti’s job, Caberet Sports Bar and Grille, took notice.

“(Kristi) was like I’m really sorry about your trampoline and she gave me a hug and I was just like I know, it happens. And a little bit later she was just like ‘Can I do this for you? Can I post something? I won’t use your name, I don’t want to be rude but can I say something about his autism?’ And I’m like absolutely, thank you so much.”

“It was instant,” says Kristi Hebel. “It just tore at my heartstrings and I’m like he needs a trampoline!”

So Kristi made a post of her own.

“I put a Facebook post on and I said anybody that wanted to help, they could Venmo me a donation,” said Hebel.

“It was well under an hour, maybe 30 minutes, when she was like ‘Done,'” shares Cawelti.

Around 15 people, some of them strangers, pitched in to get the Cawelti boys a new trampoline. Thankfully, it happened quick.

“I went on to Sam’s [Club’s website] and I ordered it and I paid for it because I knew everybody’s would be [getting] replaced,” said Hebel. “When my husband and I went in to pick it up the next day at the already paid [area], there was 14 of them sitting there to be picked up. It’s like, wow!”

“She brought it over with her family at like 3:00 in the afternoon the next day,” said Cawelti. “The tears were just, like I didn’t let them see me, but as soon as I shut the door behind me it was just a whirlwind. So it was magical.”

But the kindness did not stop there.

“I just said ‘We’re going to get this trampoline for this little boy and anything over that we’re going to donate back to the family.’ For anything else Gunner needs for his learning or therapy or Audra does a great thing with autism awareness. So she could take it back to the charity as well.”

Along with the new trampoline was a check for $300.

“I still have goosebumps talking about it,” said Cawelti. “Because it’s something that, it’s ‘Iowa nice.’ It’s what we do. If it would have happened to someone else, I would have love to have donated. That’s just kind of how our community works.”

Because after all, it takes a village.

“It’s the kid,” said Hebel. “It could have been a play set, it could have been a trampoline or a you know an iPad or whatever, but it’s the kids. Whatever he can do to just funnel some energy and just have fun and put some smiles on their faces.”

“It’s more than a gift that I can give the boys,” shares Cawelti. “It’s more than a gift the community has done. It is just something that he has enjoyed. We go to places where he can jump, he’s a big jumper and so this just kind of helps us and know every time they jump on that trampoline, it’s a little bit of everyone helping.”

Audra says they plan to put the new trampoline together this weekend.

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