By Emma King, Staff Writer
During the first week of classes, Huntsville freshman Taylor Ernst saw one of his classmates, Houston freshman Tony Zhang, drenched in sweat and struggling in the heat on his way to class.
Zhang has cerebral palsy, and according to his new friend Ernst, it takes Tony 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get to his classes with his walker. Ernst said Zhang even has to skip meals sometimes in order to get to class.
When Ernst saw him walking that day, he said he insisted that Zhang wait where he was while Ernst went to get his truck to drive Tony where he needed to go.
“I got his phone number and he started really opening up,” Ernst said.
Ernst said Zhang told him that he is lucky to be so well off. Even though he has to walk with a walker, in the heat, Zhang told Ernst that he is grateful to be where he is because so many people have it worse.
“That just stopped me dead right there,” Ernst said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help this person.”
Ernst said he called multiple offices on Baylor’s campus to find help for Zhang, but he said he kept getting transferred from department to department and was unsuccessful.
“I was just furious they wouldn’t do anything about it,” Ernst said.
It was then that he decided he would use the money he had made over the summer to pay for a scooter for Tony. He would need about $700, which was about all he had, so he started asking about ways to make a little money to help cover the cost. Santa Ana, Calif., freshman Blake Polley, one of Ernst’s roommates, helped Ernst set up their Go Fund Me with a goal of $700.
“It’s been so cool to build a friendship with him. No matter what is holding him back, he’s always enjoying his life,” Polley said.
Polley said that he was stunned by Tony’s conversation with Ernst about how lucky he is. He said that was the turning point for him. Within an hour of starting up their Go Fund Me campaign on Saturday, they had surpassed their goal and made $800.
Polley and Ernst both said that they only expected to make about $200 on the site, and that Ernst would pay for the rest of the scooter, but they raised more than enough. Today, they have gotten over 1,000 Facebook shares and received over $4,400 in donations.
“It took off,” Polley said.
Ernst said he received a call from a girl from Texas State saying that she had seen the campaign. It spread like wildfire. Ernst was even contacted by a girl from Kenya who now lives in Huntsville asking for his help. She has cerebral palsy too and needs a wheelchair that is more compatible for her needs.
Ernst said the extra money will be going to help that girl and to taking Tony shopping for some other things he needs.
“We have a lot of funds and we’re ready to do some good,” Ernst said.
Ernst and Polley have decided to work together to start up an organization on campus to help other students like Tony.
“We’re so excited,” Ernst said. “Just one act of random kindness goes so far.”
Ernst’s said his mother is bringing Tony’s new scooter to Waco on Wednesday.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be able to help someone like that,” Polley said.
To view the students’ progress or donate, visit their Go Fund Me page.