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A Boy and His Dog: Oswego Student Sparks Viral Fundraising Campaign

Jan 07, 2016 01:24PM ● By Shannon Antinori

Photo provided by Shana Peake.

An Oswego boy’s efforts to spread the Christmas spirit led to a viral campaign that is saving children's lives thousands of miles away.

Churchill Elementary third-grader Nathan Peake was honored with a “Character Counts” award at the Jan. 5 Village Board meeting for his work to help Destiny Rescue, an organization committed to rescuing child victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Nathan’s mom, Shana Peake, said it all started with a Christmas present back in 2014. Each year, Nathan’s grandmother gives each of her grandchildren $50, with one stipulation: The money must go to a charity.

Just before Christmas, Nathan and his mother were at a Christian bookstore when an employee told them about Destiny Rescue, which is based in Indiana and works to rescue children from human trafficking and help them rebuild their lives. Shana listened as the employee explained that a $5 donation provides a blanket to a rescued child, and $50 provides a bed.

“I honestly thought (Nathan) wasn’t even paying attention,” Shana said. But as soon as they left the store, Nathan, then just second-grader, excitedly told his mother his plan.

“Immediately when we went out the door, he said, ‘Mom, I can spend my Christmas money on a bed!,” Shana said. Instead of waiting until Christmas, Shana took him back inside and immediately made a donation. On Christmas, when Nathan proudly told his grandmother where he’d chosen to spend his money, she gave him another $50 — and matched the gift.

In addition to providing two more beds for victims of human trafficking, Nathan also wrote a letter to be included with his donation, and enclosed a special surprise: A stuffed dog he’d dubbed Brownie.

“I got $100 from my Nana and I’m going to help rescue a child by donating that,” Nathan wrote, adding, “I hope this dog brightens a child’s heart.”

The letter and stuffed animal made their way to Destiny Rescue USA Program Director David Grant, who was moved by Nathan’s kindness.

“I came into my office only a few weeks ago to find something special on my desk,” Grant wrote. “I often find treasures left for me sharing how friends have sacrificed to support Destiny Rescue, but this was different. It wasn’t a phone message or a formal letter, it was the handwriting of a child accompanied by a fuzzy stuffed dog … My day had just been made.”

Grant invited Nathan to Destiny Rescue’s headquarters in Indiana, where he was interviewed for a video entitled “Nathan’s Gift.”

“I think by me having a ton of stuffed animals and being able to play outside and be playing with my friends, I think that another kid being able to do that would be awesome,” Nathan said in the video, which is now part of a fundraising campaign on the Destiny Rescue website.

Grant also created a hashtag, #BrownieBarksForFreedom, and took the stuffed dog to speaking engagements at colleges across the country, and a viral campaign inspired by Nathan was launched.

“It was almost like ‘Where’s Waldo,’” Shana explained, with college students posing with Brownie and then tweeting out the photos with the hashtag.

To date, the campaign has raised more than $1,600 for Destiny Rescue, which works to aid children in countries including Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, India and the Philippines.

“Nathan was pretty excited,” Shana said, adding that friends and neighbors have since gotten involved with Destiny Rescue’s efforts to save children. “It’s just been amazing. I don’t know that (Nathan) really grasps all that he’s sparked.”

Donations can still be made to the #BrownieBarksForFreedom campaign on the Destiny Rescue website.

Nathan's Gift