Six-year-old Olamide Ajayi skipped through his teacher’s Lone Mountain neighborhood in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a wrapped bundle in his arms. Asked what was in it, he replied with a grin, “Money!”
For weeks, Olamide had been raising money from friends, family and neighbors after
telling his mother he wanted to send teacher Lisa Bernauer “a drawing and $1,000” while she was away in Reno undergoing cancer treatment. He started a GoFundMe account for the cause and made thank-you videos for each person who donated.
He surpassed his goal, collecting the final $40 from a flight attendant he befriended when a stranger gave up his first-class seat for the boy during a recent trip.
“I wanted him to know that good things happen to people who do good,” said his mother, Jill Ajayi.
On Wednesday, Olamide got to present his gift of $1,050 to Bernauer, who is in the midst of her third battle with invasive lobular carcinoma, a rare type of breast cancer, at her home.
First diagnosed at 41, Bernauer had to retire from her kindergarten classroom at Discovery Charter School in Summerlin last year at 52 when she could no longer keep up with the physical demands of teaching. Bernauer met Olamide while mentoring his home-school study group twice a week because she felt she could not leave teaching behind entirely.
She said that, even if she had kept working in order to keep her insurance, it would not have paid for her therapy, which is considered alternative. Instead, she spent five months waiting to qualify for disability, which will eventually allow her to enroll in Medicare.
But Bernauer is caught in a Catch-22: Between disability payments and a small pension she receives from the Public Employees Retirement System, she is ineligible for additional assistance from Medicaid, which comes with an income cap.
That led her to start a GoFundMe account, which so far has received donations of about half of her $35,000 goal. But she has already experienced unexpected extra costs. When her $2,500 PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line failed, for example, she learned she would be charged for a second one.
“I think dealing with that part of it is more stressful than having cancer,” Bernauer said of the phone calls to fight the additional charge. “It’s a lack of empathy. You’re just a number.”
Bernauer said she was extremely grateful that Olamide and his family went to such lengths to help.
She told him that his jar of cash and coins will pay for a month of her prescription and vitamin pills.
Addressing Olamide and his 4-year-old brother, Ayotunde, Bernauer showed why she’s known for creating what her GoFundMe account creators call a “creative cocoon of a classroom.” When she learned that the 6-year-old was nervous about getting sick if he came over, Bernauer switched into an age-appropriate lesson on cancer.
“You were worried that my sickness could get to you? Well, guess what? Alien blobs are not contagious,” Bernauer told him. “You know what alien blobs really are? Alien blobs are cells in your body that go rogue. Kind of like it was a Jedi knight and they went to the Dark Side.”
Olamide’s father, Sunday Ajayi, said he and his wife are enormously proud of their boys.
“We wanted to raise them to love and care for people and the world,” he said.