Kathie Bassett, The Telegraph, Alton, Ill. –
EDWARDSVILLE – It has turned into the gift heard ’round the world.
People everywhere have seemingly been touched by 8-year-old Wyatt Erber and his decision to donate $1,000 he won in a contest to help his 2-year-old neighbor who is battling leukemia.
“It’s been another crazy day,” said Noelle Erber on Friday of the immense outpouring of support for her son’s good deed. “The messages keep coming – Wyatt was just on the ‘Today Show’ and on the ABC News scroll at the bottom of ‘Good Morning America’s’ website.
“It’s another day of the whirlwind we’re in,” Erber said. “We’re enjoying the ride for how long it lasts.”
In fact, the “Good Morning America” website listed Wyatt’s effort to help pay for Cara Kielty’s treatment as its most popular health story as of late Friday afternoon.
The publicity rush began shortly after a Telegraph article Aug. 24 detailed Wyatt’s goodwill, which began when he won $1,000 in First Clover Leaf Bank’s summer scavenger hunt.
Wyatt’s poignant question after learning that he had won – “How much chemotherapy will $1,000 buy Cara?” – resonated with not only local readers but with those as far away as Canada, Malaysia and Great Britain.
The first hint that something extraordinary was happening came when friends alerted the Erbers to the fact The Telegraph’s story had appeared on Yahoo! Canada’s main page.
The media attention ramped up markedly after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a Page 1 story Wednesday on the young hometown hero. Then, a call came to The Telegraph from the London Daily Mail for permission to use the story.
Readers of the British paper’s online version posted dozens of laudatory comments: “Fantastic little lad I hope he continues this kindness all through his life and if so I hope luck will be with him every step of the way” and “Congratulations to not only Wyatt but to his parents for raising a child who does not think about himself but others as well. They must be very special people.”
Wyatt’s parents, Jeff and Noelle Erber, are surprised by the comments, but not by their son’s compassion for others.
“He’s always been that kind of giving kid, always very caring,” Noelle Erber said. “But, it’s how much Wyatt has affected other people that has made me cry.”
Wyatt remains refreshingly unaffected by the attention.
His mother said he has yet to ask to see a picture of himself in a paper and he has fun doing an interview, but when it’s over he goes back to playing soccer or with his Legos.
When picked up from school early for a TV interview, he told his mother that he couldn’t “keep on missing school.”
After reading some of the online postings, the Erbers decided to share some with Wyatt. His favorite: “Right on little dude!” But, the one Wyatt thought was “the most hilarious” was the reader who commented it was “nice to read something other than about Kim Kardashian or the Naked Prince.”
He didn’t get it, “but still thought it pretty funny to imagine a prince without clothes on,” Erber said.
The mother said she can no longer keep a handle on the volume of material written about Wyatt, much less read all the comments.
“To think that there are things out there about my kid that I’ll never lay eyes on is a bit unsettling,” she said.
Believing that the media interest would shortly subside, the Erbers instead soon understood that a significant shift in coverage would be occurring after they received a call from ABC News Wednesday morning.
“We had the interview and then the reporter asked to talk to (Cara’s mother) Trisha,” Erber explained. “I took down her number – and it wasn’t local – that’s when it hit that this was the national news. It hadn’t crossed my mind that it might be or that it could even happen.”
Calls soon followed from the Huffington Post, NBC News and Today.com for additional phone interviews. And the latest, from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
“I’ve been waiting for Wyatt’s 15-minutes of fame to end, and just when I think it’s about over, someone keeps resetting the clock and it starts all over again,” Erber said of her son’s newfound celebrity.
Protective parents, the Erbers then began combing the Internet for mentions of their son and his friend.
Soon, they were receiving Facebook requests from people all over the world and friends began telling them of other mentions, postings, articles and comments.
“One of our neighbors called and she was so excited,” Erber related. “She almost shouted, ‘Guess what? Wyatt and Cara are on Radar Online!
“She thought Wyatt had made the big time,” she laughed. “I looked and there were Wyatt and Cara between pictures of Britney Spears and LeAnn Rimes. They looked way out of place.”
As for the Kieltys, Cara’s mother thinks, “it’s awesome the way the news of Wyatt’s generosity is spreading.”
“We want Wyatt to have all the attention for what he has done,” Trisha Kielty said. “And, people recognize that the credit should go not just to the kid but also to the parents who are standing behind him.”
First Clover Leaf Bank’s phones have also been ringing nonstop.
“People not only want to do something for Cara, they want to do something for Wyatt,” the bank’s Marketing Officer Kelly Wagner said. “They know if they give money to Wyatt that he’ll give it to Cara, which isn’t what people solely want to happen.”
Officials at the bank conferred among themselves and consulted with the Erbers before establishing a scholarship fund in Wyatt’s name.
“We’ve had people calling from all over the country that want to pay it forward for Wyatt,” Wagner said. “But, this way, people can donate money for both Cara’s benefit and Wyatt’s benefit; they don’t have to choose.”
Wagner said people are inspired by the purity of Wyatt’s motive.
“The idea seems to be that if an eight-year-old can be that generous, then adults can be, too,” she said. “His good deed seems to be contagious.
“None of us ever imagined that our little scavenger hunt could develop into something this positive,” Wagner added. “No one could ask for a better ending.”
And all this was before the family had received an exploratory call from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
“Wyatt rocked the interview after school on Thursday,” Wagner said. “We’re all rooting for him to have some fun in the process because Wyatt truly doesn’t understand why what he did is such a big deal – to him this was a very logical decision that made sense.”
Everyone at the bank has their fingers crossed that DeGeneres will extend an invitation to the boy to appear on her show.
“Nothing has been officially set up – there’s no news to report,” Erber emphasized.
Wagner believes he’ll eventually make the show, and deserves to.
“Wyatt is so truly humbled,” she said. “I can only hope that other kids and adults can follow his example.”
Donations can be made to the Cara R. Kielty Benefit Fund and the Wyatt Erber Scholarship Fund at First Clover Leaf Bank, 6814 Goshen Road, Edwardsville, IL 62025.