COLUMBIA — If you're a friend of Jodie Bappe's on Facebook, she probably seems like a typical 15-year-old.
Her "likes" range from Ron Paul and Barack Obama, to Wonka candy and SpongeBob SquarePants. Her profile picture shows her with friends, showing off the braces on their teeth as they playfully stick out their tongues. Prominently displayed on her profile page is a quote from Walt Disney: "If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing started with a dream and a mouse."
With the help of a computer mouse, Jodie took that to heart and told her story about growing up fast and dealing with much more than a teenager should. She published her story on the popular online crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo, to help raise money for her family. The campaign goal of $3,500 was reached and then doubled when a total of $8,081 was raised.
"That was pretty amazing," Jodie said. "I was just surprised by how generous strangers were."
Jodie's mother, Nikki Bappe, was diagnosed 18 years ago with the lung disease Interstitial Pulmonary Pneumonia. Nikki Bappe said no one knows why she contracted the disease.
In September 2011, she faced the possibility of death. Jodie describes in her story how her mother was very sick and had to be put on a ventilator, with the risk of developing a deadly infection. Jodie writes:
"Right there. Clear as day. My world: shattered.
"I could not breathe, could not blink, could not cry. Instead, I put my hood on my head and tried not to faint. For the next 20 hours, I didn’t sleep, eat, or smile. I just cried."
Jodie's mom survived. But as Jodie continues her story, you learn her father, Andrew Bappe, was diagnosed with oral cancer in June.
The sole income for the family dried up because he has not been able to work since receiving treatment and still needs time to recover. Nikki Bappe receives just $408 a month on disability. So the family hoped to pay their mortgage and medical bills and buy winter and children's clothing with money raised from the campaign.
Reaching out for help
More then ever, people are using the Internet to reach out to the people they know and strangers to get help with crippling medical expenses. Sites like Fundly, GiveForward and IndieGoGo have helped people create their own campaigns — oftentimes to cover the bills after a misfortune. Other popular crowdfunding platforms includes Kickstarter, StartSomeGood and RocketHub.
After Nikki Bappe realized her family was in trouble financially, she started looking around for charities that might be able to help. It was her son, Frank, who stumbled upon IndieGoGo. She was glad they went through the site because it was easy to use and charged reasonable rates.
Campaign owners have no limit to their goal amount. When they set their goals, they choose one of two funding options: a fixed funding option or a flexible funding option.
Fixed funding allows owners to collect the money only if they made the entire goal. Flexible funding allows owners to keep all money raised even if their goal was not met. Both options have a 4 percent charge, but the charge is raised to 9 percent if you don't meet your goal on flexible funding. An extra 3 percent charge is added for credit card transactions.
Contributions to campaigns are not tax deductible, unless the campaign is a registered 501 (c)(3) organization — a not-for-profit that is registered and verified by the U.S. government through the Internal Revenue Service, according to IndieGoGo's website.
An IndieGoGo spokesperson said via email the company does not act as a gatekeeper for the projects funded on the platform. It is up to the community to decide whether to contribute.
"That said, crowdfunding in itself is a great deterrent for 'false' campaigns because it’s up to the crowd to determine what’s 'legitimate,'" the spokesperson wrote. "The social dynamics and democratic nature of crowdfunding make it much more difficult to raise funds for fraudulent campaigns."
The campaigns tend to fall into three categories — creative, entrepreneurial and cause campaigns.
A popular campaign that was funded through IndieGoGo was Robot Dragonfly—a palm-sized robot that looks like an insect and is designed for aerial photography, advanced gaming, security and research and development.
Another was a campaign to raise money to send a 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein, on a vacation. She drew attention when a video of her being verbally attacked by middle-school students circulated. The campaign's goal was $5,000, but the campaign ended up raising over $700,000.
Nikki Bappe was worried that their campaign would die because some kind of activity has to occur within the first two days or the campaign automatically ends. But from the time her son, Frank, hit the live button, to the time it took him to drive back to his own home, the campaign had already raised $275 and had about 16 likes.
"We have a very, very good community in Columbia," she said.
Many people from her neighborhood and work were a big part of the campaign's success, she said. One neighbor sent out 200 emails, all of Frank Bappe's co-workers sent out emails, and friends got the word out via Twitter, among other efforts to help the campaign.
"All the people that we know really took that campaign and ran with it," Nikki Bappe said. "It wasn't just that they donated money, it's that they took it as far as it went."
But she gives a lot of the credit to Jodie.
"Jodie is the amazing one," her mother said. "The reason we got such a great response was her story and the way that she wrote it. She is what inspired a lot of people."
This wasn't the first time Jodie had written about her mother's illness, but that didn't make it any less difficult. What Jodie really wanted to get across through her writing was how sick her parents were and that they really could not work.
"It's kind of hard emotionally even though I had written about it before," Jodie said. "I try not to think about it. I try to treat it like a job."
At one point in time, Jodie thought she wanted to be a writer. Now, she wants to be a veterinarian. She sees it as more practical but might write on the side.
Meanwhile, she's still a teenager with the usual number of idols. She says Ellen DeGeneres is her second favorite person.
"I think she is just the nicest person in the world," Jodie said. "She just gives and gives and gives. She’s my idol, or Ryan Reynolds. He’s not my idol or anything, but I’m in love with him."
Nikki is trying to give her daughter the opportunity to meet Ellen. She worries about how her and Andrew's illnesses are affecting their daughter.
"She was always really happy and easy going, and now when she smiles it doesn’t reach her eyes," her mother said.
And what would Jodie talk about if she ever was on the Ellen DeGeneres show? Her No. 1 favorite person in the world: her mom.
"She's the strongest person ever," Jodie said, "and I hope to be like her when I grow up."