When Janae was a young child, her grandparents gifted her a snow globe. She was mesmerized by it, which caught her family's attention as it was one of the first "toys" she had ever really played with.
Janae has a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome, which causes a host of developmental and physiological challenges, including learning delays and issues with various organs. At 15 years old, Janae has already been through two open-heart surgeries and countless other medical procedures.
Many kids with Williams Syndrome don't play with toys, preferring to engage with people rather than things. In fact, extreme friendliness and abundant love for everyone they meet are unique features of people with Williams, which is part of why Janae's aunt, Stefanny Avera, describes her as having "a heart of gold."
"It is by far her 'special ability,' although medically it is classified as a disability," says Avera.
When Janae showed a keen interest in snow globes, her family started collecting them in their travels to give to her. She kept the collection on a special shelf in her bedroom.
But one night in January, Janae awoke to a terrible crashing sound. Her snow globe shelf had fallen off the wall, shattering her collection and devastating Janae.
"I was on the phone at the time with her mom and I heard her just bawling," says Avera. "She was so worried that everyone would be upset that they broke and that she'd never get new ones."
Avera wanted to do something to help, so she turned to the local community. She posted a photo of Janae on the Nextdoor app to reach her Thornton, Colorado neighbors and explained what had happened. She thought maybe she could buy some used snow globes from people in the community to help Janae rebuild her collection.
"I expected to get maybe a dozen for her to start," says Avera. "It blew up."
The snow globes started pouring in—and so did people's stories.
One woman donated a Disney snow globe that was given to her years ago during her first job at Disney World.
A traveling nurse who collected snow globes all over the U.S. gifted Janae her entire collection.
Another woman donated three globes that had belonged to her sister who died of cancer 12 years ago. She said this felt like "the perfect opportunity to move forward and let her love for them move on."
A couple who had received two snow globes when they lost a child gave one of them to Janae.
"People dropped them off crying happy tears, watching Janae cry happy tears," says Avera.
Janae's reaction to receiving the influx of snow globes could not be more precious.
People were happy to help and eager to share what their snow globes meant to them.
"We were told many times it was therapeutic to be a part of it all," says Avera. "There were people who told us entire stories about lost loved ones who also collected, people whose children collected them too and heard her story and gifted her some from their collection, people who had loved ones with special needs and love being a part of gifting Janae one."
Nearly ten months later, Janae still gets snow globes dropped off once in a while. "We even get them in the mail from people who heard about it on Nextdoor through friends and they mailed them," says Avera.
Janae has gotten 86 snow globes so far as a result of Avera's Nextdoor post, including globes that have been sent from six different states. When she gets duplicates, Jane gifts them to other kids, keeping the generosity flowing.
When asked how she feels about her snow globes, Janae said, "I'm just happy and blessed to have been given them."
It's incredible how people will step up to help out when asked. Janae's shelf falling may have felt tragic at the time, but her aunt reaching out to her neighbors resulted in a wave of support and heartfelt human connection, which is what being part of a community is all about.
"To see not only our community but people across the country share and reach out, to see so many people cry and share in this moment of happiness has been an amazing and humbling experience," says Avera.
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