Columbus North senior Keirsten White believes in wishes — so much so that she once left 100 pennies at a Columbus fountain saying, “Your next wish is on me.”

It was that kind of spirit that moved White to do something to help the family of classmate Josh Speidel following his Feb. 1 car accident near Taylorsville.

Speidel has been in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, recovering from a skull fracture and a broken jaw. He also had a procedure to reduce pressure on his brain.

Speidel’s car collided with an SUV, a collision so severe that firefighters had to use the Jaws of Life to pop open the door to his Honda Accord and peel off the roof in order to get him out.

Story continues below gallery

As accident details emerged that night, White said she was awakened by multiple text messages on her phone from friends about the accident.

She isn’t close friends with the high school basketball star — more of a friend of his best friends at North, she explained. But she felt she had to do something.

So the next morning, she set up a fund on the online site gofundme.com to help her classmate’s family.

It was something she had never attempted before and something she never expected to be successful, she said.

She used the #JoshStrong moniker adopted by Speidel’s friends and a black-and-white senior-class portrait of Josh’s face behind a basketball.

With the push of a computer key, the online site was born. She set her goal at $1,000, although White said she never expected to get that much.

Her fears were initially confirmed when about $25 was donated the first day, as Speidel’s family, friends and classmates were shocked at the news that Columbus North’s all-time leading scorer and a University of Vermont recruit was in a medically induced coma.

But the 17-year-old was about to receive the surprise of her life through the oddest of alliances.

‘Let’s raise some money’

Former Indiana University basketball player and coach Dan Dakich mentioned the Speidel fund on his afternoon sports show Feb. 2 on WFNI radio in Indianapolis.

That was followed by an impromptu radiothon Feb. 3 when Dakich declared, “Let’s raise some money,” and fans around the state responded.

The total in the fund has climbed steadily since then, from $5,000 early on to $45,000 as of Tuesday night. Many of the online donations include notes to Speidel and his family, offering well wishes from across the country.

At first, White just had a few words thanking those who donated, but then she decided to get more personal.

Part of that came from thinking about her dad Keith White’s work for Fletcher Chrysler in Franklin and a donation that came from the dealership.

She decided to write a personal message to each of the more than 400 people who have donated to the fund so far. She ended each message with “we are #joshstrong.”

The amount in the fund is far beyond anything she dreamed of, she said.

“It’s more than just me,” she said of the hundreds of people who have donated on the site. “I had no intention of it getting this big.”

But now that it has, she too says she’s learning something from watching the generosity of fans, friends and total strangers whose hearts have been touched by Speidel’s story.

“I’ve learned how easy it is to make a difference,” she said. “One person can make a difference in someone’s life.”

A giving heart

White’s stay-at-home mom, Erica White, describes her eldest daughter as an individual who has a giving heart.

For her senior project, White chose “Acts of Kindness,” tracking how far one act of kindness could grow, how many people it could affect, her mother said.

“She will randomly leave money by a pop machine, just to bring a smile to someone’s face,” her mother said.

With the pennies, White left a note that said, “You are never given a wish without the power to make it come true.”

The idea to try to help the Speidel family came from the realization that she didn’t have enough money herself to help, Erica White said.

“The Golden Rule is very big in our house,” she said. “This girl lives by the Golden Rule.”

White serves meals at Love Chapel on Wednesday nights, working with church volunteers who prepare the food. She’s president of North’s Key Club, a student-led organization providing service opportunities and developing leaderships skills. The core values of Key Club are caring and inclusiveness.

She works at Starbucks off National Road 28 hours a week and is taking Advanced Placement classes at North this semester and IUPUC classes. The Starbucks work is to save money for college at Indiana University this fall.

The hours spent volunteering are about something else.

Dreams for the future

Volunteering at Love Chapel started out as helping out every other week, part of her Key Club service. But soon, White discovered that Love Chapel needed one person who knew where everything was, who could help the church volunteers who prepare the meals get organized in distribution.

She’s been busy helping them and reorganizing the area where meals are distributed to make it more efficient, she said.

And her career dreams have changed as she explores the power of wishes, giving and believing in people.

“I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist until a few months ago,” she said of one of her goals. “You know, shave my head with my patients, be that kind of doctor.”

But now, she sees herself as an individual who needs to start something that matters, much along the lines of Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, who gives away a pair of shoes for every pair he sells.

Mycoskie has given away 35 million pairs of shoes since 2006, and Toms Eyewear has restored sight to more than 250,000 individuals since 2011 — all through customers’ generosity.

“I want to create a for-profit business that’s successful and makes a huge difference in the world,” White said. That business will probably have something to do with biotechnology, but she isn’t that far into that dream yet.

If there’s one student who exemplifies that kind of dedication to service, it would be White, said her science teacher, North’s Nick Williams.

White’s work helping others during the past two years has given him something to point to about what high school students can do to make a difference, Williams said.

Her list of what she does to help in the community is probably the most of any student Williams has ever taught, he said.

“She’s just a very enthusiastic kid in general,” he said.

“A lot of my teachers say I’ve found my calling,” White said.

A role model

As White prepares to leave for IU this fall, her mother says her oldest daughter could not have been a better role model for her younger sisters — Kelsey, 14, and Kenzie, 10.

“She has inspired me,” Erica White said of her daughter. “She has always made me proud.”

White said she has no idea how far the #JoshStrong fund will go or what the Speidel family might be thinking about it. She hasn’t talked to the family about it, saying they have so much to deal with right now that it isn’t necessary.

When the family needs the money, they can get all of it at once or withdraw as needed, she said.

And she has no idea what she might say to Josh Speidel someday about how the fundraising started or about the hundreds of donors who were so taken with the basketball player’s story.

She might not say anything at all, she said.

“I know that Josh will make it through this,” she said. “I have faith he will make it through.”

4 ways you can help

Donating to #joshstrong

If you are interested in donating online to the #joshstrong site established by Columbus North senior Keirsten White, go to gofundme.com and type in Josh Speidel in the search area. The site will appear at the top of the list.

Josh Speidel Gifts of Grace

All MainSource bank locations around Indiana are also accepting donations to help the Josh Speidel family with medical expenses. Mention that you are donating to the Josh Speidel Gifts of Grace fund so the bank officials can access the account. Questions may be directed to dianmann@gmail.com. The bank account was established by Bill and Diana Mann, Columbus, who are close family friends with the Speidels.

Gasoline cards

Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road, is collecting gasoline gift cards for the Speidel family to ease the cost of traveling to and from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. The gift cards may be dropped off at the church between 8 a.m. and noon and 1 and 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. and noon Fridays. For more information, call 812-376-9478.

Frontier Telecommunications accepts donations

Frontier Telecommunications in Seymour, Third and Walnut streets, is accepting donations for the Speidel family as Josh Spedel’s father, David, is employed there as a local technical supervisor. Those who donate are registered to win a $50 Visa gift card from the company.

Pull Quote

“I’ve learned how easy it is to make a difference. One person can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Columbus North senior Keirsten White, on lessons learned as she raises money for accident victim Josh Speidel

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.