Aug 28, 2013
01:38 PM

Back-to-School Inspiration: Wallingford Student's 'Transformation' Philanthropy

Back-to-School Inspiration: Wallingford Student's 'Transformation' Philanthropy

Ryan Bell.

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School started in many districts across the state this week, which meant families all over Connecticut had survived a back-to-class ritual that likely involved significant expenditures on everything from new backpacks, notebooks and supplies to the latest fashions, or uniforms.

Even as parents surely wanted to discuss things like upping grades a notch and gilding scholastic résumés with extracurricular activities, students doubtless pushed the conversations toward their need for iPads and smartphones.

Anyone feeling fatigued by the process, or jaded about misplaced priorities in the world of education, might benefit from the perspective offered by the story of 12-year-old Ryan Bell of Wallingford, who will start 7th grade next Tuesday at James H. Moran Middle School.

Ryan engages in fundraising on behalf of Heifer International, a force in the fight against global hunger, and a blog post on Heifer’s website from March of this year sums things up nicely.

“Ever since we received a letter about Ryan Bell almost three years ago, we’ve known there was something extra special about him,” it begins. “He hasn’t had the easiest go in life, but he’s never let his differences stand in his way. And despite his hardships, Ryan has always wanted to make life easier for others.

“As a 10-year old, Ryan convinced his family that they really could be doing more with their annual penny auction fundraiser that benefited both Heifer and a local charity. He just wasn’t satisfied with the amount they were able to donate,” the post says.

“In the past two years, with the help of his family, friends and his community, Ryan has raised nearly $40,000 for Heifer International,” it continues. “And he just doesn’t quit. When Ryan reached his lofty goal of raising $25,000 for Heifer just before Christmas of 2012, his first thought was that he should go for another Gift Ark, or $5,000 more. When he reached THAT goal, he immediately said he wanted to go for $50,000.”

His project, Heifer’s Gift of Transformation, and his determination to only do better and make more of a difference are inspiring and impressive for a young man not yet in his teens—and that favorable judgment grows exponentially when you learn why the word transformation is so important to Ryan’s narrative.

"I was excited when I saw the Gift of Transformation in the gift catalog because it reminds me of the transformation that I went through this year,” Ryan says in telling his story on his Team Heifer fundraising page. “I want to send herds of heifers, llamas, and goats, flocks of sheep and chickens, a pen of pigs, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese to an underdeveloped area of the world and let a transformation take place as the gift is received, utilized and passed along. I want to give my own Gift of Transformation to the world.”

His own ongoing transformation has involved 37 surgeries so far, the most recent of which was to lengthen his jawbone so that his tracheal tube can come out in another year, and Ryan’s mom, Laura, said this week that the family was just talking about surgery number 38.

Ryan was born with a rare genetic condition called Treacher Collins Syndrome, which involves underdevelopment in the structure of the face and head—and his inner strength is such that rather than being held back by his medical issues, Ryan is only increasingly committed to the fight against world hunger as a way of transforming the world.

Back-to-School Inspiration: Wallingford Student's 'Transformation' Philanthropy

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