Sa’fyre Terry and the Internet have much in common: They can both do amazing things.
Sa’fyre’s amazing things have come in her long and remarkable recovery from severe and life-altering injuries she suffered surviving a devastating 2013 Schenectady arson fire that killed her father and three siblings.
The Internet’s amazing things came Tuesday, as people around the world learned of Sa’fyre’s story through a call for the simple holiday joy of a Christmas card.
The 8-year-old Sa’fyre had a Christmas card tree, the Internet learned. Could the Internet fill it?
News outlets here and abroad shared the challenge. Social media users did the same.
Sa’fyre’s story of heartbreak and triumph quickly touched seemingly countless people worldwide.
Those people not only opened up their collective heart by pledging cards, they also discovered a long-dormant fundraising page set up to help Sa’fyre and her Rotterdam family along her still long road ahead.
Once they found that, they poured out thousands of dollars in support. By late Tuesday, the money raised topped $70,000.
The response left Sa’fyre’s aunt and caretaker Liz Dolder speechless.
“Let me get a thesaurus,” a shocked and thankful Dolder told The Daily Gazette Tuesday evening via Facebook of her reaction. “Maybe I can find a word there.”
Over the phone, Dolder still couldn’t pinpoint it.
“I’m just trying to find that one word, that incredible, wonderful word,” Dolder said. “I just feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again.”
Amazing. How’s that for a word?
“This is incredible,” Dolder said. “This is over the moon. … The world is in such turmoil, and then for this one man to bring about all this peace from around the world — to rally the world for this little girl is marvelous.”
Dolder was speaking of Kevin Clark, a local biker and member of the Norlanders MC motorcycle club. It was Clark who slowly started the Internet snowball last week.
The worldwide Christmas card request began in a Dec. 3 post on the Facebook page used to update her progress since the fire, “Safyre Schenectady’s Super Survivor.”
Sa’fyre is seen next to a small spiral card tree holding the Dolder family’s first Christmas card.
“Safyre is thrilled we got our first Christmas card,” the post reads. “Thank you Aunt Lonnie. Safyre is excited to fill up the card tree. Sending out lots of Holiday cheer to ALL…… FAITH LOVE HOPE …. HAPPY HOLIDAYS.”
It wasn’t a direct appeal for cards. Clark, whom the family first met at a September fundraiser and who kept in touch, took care of that.
Clark asked Dolder if he could share the original picture, hoping to get her more cards, Dolder said.
“I wonder how many of my friends would take the time to write and send Sa’fyre a Merry Christmas card that she can hang on her card tree … ” Clark wrote Dec. 4.
Clark also added the P.O. box — cards can be sent to Sa’fyre Terry, P.O. Box 6126, Schenectady, NY, 12306.
The Internet took it from there.
Sa’fyre is the only child to survive the devastating May 2, 2013, arson fire at 438 Hulett St. The fire claimed the life of her father David Terry and her three siblings, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months.
The arson remains unsolved, though a federal jury convicted one man last month for lying to a grand jury investigating the fire.
Pulled from the home by firefighters, Sa’fyre suffered severe burns and underwent months of surgeries and hospitalization. She lost a hand shortly after the fire and has since lost a foot. There are more surgeries to come. She uses a prosthetic to walk.
She’s long since returned to school and has excelled.
Sa’fyre, along with Dolder’s twins Jacob and Jasmine, were all included in last month’s Daily Gazette Holiday Parade. They accompanied another person getting a lot of mail this time of year: Santa.
Dolder and her husband Michael now care for Sa’fyre, along with Jacob and Jasmine.
Once Sa’fyre’s story got out to the larger world Tuesday, the response came fast.
Online giant BuzzFeed picked up the story Tuesday morning. A morning tweet to their story garnered replies such as “I’m in” and “Sending out my card to her today.”
Other sites came on board before and after, including Yahoo!, Cosmopolitan, Imgur and even Britain’s Metro and Telegraph.
By early afternoon, even Hulkamania was on board. Legendary wrestler Hulk Hogan weighed in, addressing his Facebook “maniacs.”
“Alright maniacs let’s make Safyre’s Christmas Dream come true!” the Hulkster wrote in a post that garnered 6,800 likes and 2,300 shares by evening. “All she wants is Christmas Cards from around the world, but a little extra Christmas magic wouldn’t hurt!”
Dolder felt compelled to respond personally with a picture of Sa’fyre holding a tablet showing Hogan’s post.
“THANK YOU Hulk Hogan” Dolder wrote, adding a heart emoticon in between, “for your support and sharing Safyre’s wish. It means so much to her.”
Sa’fyre’s Facebook page, Safyre Schenectady’s Super Survivor, itself nearly tripled its likes. It began the day with about 8,000. By evening, it had 21,000.
Pinned to the top of that page for months has been the fundraising account, set up on YouCaring.com ahead of a September event. It sat quietly at the top in the months since.
Sa’fyre, Dolder said, has no idea how big her story became Tuesday. Dolder struggled to process it herself.
The family opened the first trickle of Christmas cards Tuesday evening.
Sa’fyre, Dolder said, “loves it. She’s so excited.”
The impacts of what happened are many, from both the cards and the donations, Dolder said.
The donations, she said, mean the family can keep and fix their van, the one they use to get Sa’fyre to Boston for her appointments and ongoing surgeries at the Shriners Hospital for Children there. She has another surgery scheduled for after the first of the year.
The family can be on solid footing again after Dolder’s husband Michael lost his job over the summer. He started a new job last month, but the family’s finances suffered.
The family can put away money for Sa’fyre’s future.
Dolder sees the Christmas cards as going toward Sa’fyre’s future, too.
When she’s down, Dolder believes Sa’fyre will be able to look back on this wonderful, amazing Christmas card avalanche.
“She can go and reflect on these cards,” Dolder said, “look and see that people care.”