GENEVA – Tommy Antonson was 8 when he decided he wanted to “pay it forward” the generosity of Project Mobility, an organization that helped his special-needs sister, Rose, obtain a custom, adaptive bicycle.
The bicycles cost from $2,000-$4,000, so Tommy decided to sell Dum-Dum Pops for 25 cents apiece. His goal was to raise $500 in two months. He raised $1,700 and then eventually $2,000 from additional donations, his mother Jennifer Antonson said.
Now the Geneva boy’s effort was recognized by Kohl’s Cares Scholarships, which awarded him a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarships are in recognition of volunteers who make a positive impact on their communities. Kohl’s gave 200 awards from more than 37,000 nominees nationwide.
Tommy’s recognition was not much of a surprise to his mother.
“Honestly, Tommy has always been a compassionate child with empathy for others,” Jennifer Antonson said. “Because Rosie takes up a lot of extra time, with doctor visits and therapies, a young boy could get jealous. Tommy helps with whatever her assignment is for therapy. He genuinely loves her.”
In 2009 when Rose was 3, she was measured for an adaptive bike from Project Mobility, affiliated with The Bike Rack in St. Charles.
“The doorbell rang on Christmas Eve, and Riley Christensen was standing there with an adaptive bike from Project Mobility for our daughter Rose,” Antonson said. “She said how she raised money for one bike, but got enough for three bikes and chose our daughter as one of the recipients.”
Riley, a 10-year-old St. Charles fifth-grader, raised more than $6,000 by sending an appeal letter to everyone on her family’s Christmas card list to support Project Mobility after seeing a video about bicycles for people with disabilities.
“Since I was so touched and astounded by that, I decided to sell Dum Dum suckers for 25 cents each to pay it forward,” said Tommy, who is now 9. “We were saving money for it. My sister really needed it. Most special-needs kids don’t get to ride bikes. It’s most important for them to have chances. My sister got a chance with that bike.”
Rose is developmentally delayed and has weak muscles and poor coordination. The three-wheel bike has foot pedals with straps to hold her feet and a rectangular handlebar so she can reach it, form-fitting seat and a shoulder harness.
Antonson said she paid for six bags of Dum Dum Pops, 200 suckers per bag, and she went with Tommy as he sold them.
“We went to every neighborhood in the known world,” Antonson said. “We went to St. Charles Bowl during league nights. He had a picture on a flier and a spiel talking about Riley and how she raised money for his sister to have a special bike. He said he wanted to pay it forward so he could help another special-needs kid with an adaptive bicycle.”
Project Mobility was created by The Bike Rack co-owner Hal Honeyman, to provide specially engineered bicycles to people with disabilities.
Nancy Honeyman, also co-owner of the The Bike Rack, said they never had an inkling that Tommy was raising money until Riley participated in a fundraising bike ride, and Tommy presented her with a $2,000 check. The Bike Rack and Tommy’s aunt nominated him for the Kohl’s scholarship.
“What he said when he presented the check was, ‘Now my sister does not have to stand in a window and watch us ride our bikes. She can ride with us,’ ” Honeyman recalled. “He’s a very nice young man.”