From The News & Observer, North Raleigh News, April 13, 2007
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
RALEIGH — The first year at summer camp, Jonathan Bunzey used sign language so little that some wondered if he really needed an interpreter to stick with him. He does, his mom Heather Bunzey would tell them. Last year, his second at the camp, he proved her right.
Jonathan, who is unable to speak and has other learning disabilities after a bout with encephalitis as a toddler, spoke more and even taught fellow campers some signs. This year, his mom jokes, the12-year-old better have a good interpreter.
"It’s been a blessing because it has given him a lot of confidence he didn’t have," said Heather Bunzey.
It’s that experience that Jonathan says has helped drive him to continue to raise money for North Raleigh’s A.E. Finley YMCA’s annual fundraising campaign, in part through donations collected at lemonade and coffee stands.
Two weeks ago, his fundraising efforts, which totaled $6,400 last year, earned him a Champion of Change award from the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, the North Raleigh group that helps children with disabilities. The group, which provides Jonathan with an interpreter at summer camp, was co-founded by singer and North Raleigh native Clay Aiken of "American Idol" fame. Jonathan is the award’s youngest recipient.
"It was his idea to raise the money," said Kristy Barnes, the foundation’s president and chief operating officer. "That was really special to us."
There’s little difference between Jonathan and the typical 12-year-old boy. He lives in North Raleigh’s Stonehenge neighborhood with his mom, dad, Danny, and three siblings. He likes basketball, video games and eating. And he often disagrees with his mom — signing furiously, but with an ever-present smile on his face — when she has said something he disagrees with.
Heather Bunzey was pregnant with her fourth child when Jonathan became sick when he was about 18 months old. A couple of days later, Jonathan was semi-comatose in the hospital. Doctors said they weren’t sure if he’d live or what kind of life he would have if he survived.
But Jonathan persevered. He went through rigorous therapy programs to regain motor skills, balance and his ability to swallow and chew.
His family credits hard work and their faith in God for the strides he has made. Now, they’re focusing on teaching him to read so that he can speak using a computer-assisted communication program. Heather Bunzey home schools Jonathan.
"When Jonathan got sick, Danny and I said there’s a reason God had him survive," Heather Bunzey said. "I think the Lord’s been good at a very early age to show that there are great things he can do even with his disabilities."
Now Jonathan, along with the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, hopes to encourage Raleigh children to all set up lemonade stands on May 19 to benefit the foundation.
Heather Bunzey talked logistics with Barnes last week over the Bunzey’s kitchen table. Maybe Jonathan could have a lemonade stand in a central spot where the final results could be tallied up, his mother said.
No, Jonathan interrupted. He wanted to go from stand to stand to encourage kids to keep on going.
"The community has been such a part of his healing," Heather Bunzey said. "So now we’re trying to reach back into the community as well."