The surprise note April Peterman recently received in the mail hangs prominently on her refrigerator.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure despite overwhelming obstacles” is scrawled across the index card in purple marker, quoting actor Christopher Reeve.
Its sender added a signature – Dillon – and provided further encouragement: Have a great day!
That simple message was all it took to brighten Peterman’s day, despite recent struggles that included a separation from her husband.
“Knowing that someone takes the time to send a card – to write it and boost my soul up – is just, wow,” said Peterman, 52, of Gahanna. “Every day we’re faced with negativity, so when you get something positive like that, when you’re having a bad day, all you can do is smile.”
Beginning this summer, Peterman has found some similar bit of random joy from a stranger in her mailbox once or twice a month. That’s when she was added to the mailing list of New Albany-based nonprofit Celebrating One Person at a Time. Her son, Josh, 14, also receives cards.
Celebrating One Person at a Time sends more than 300 cards every month to people in central Ohio and beyond looking for a pick-me-up in their darkest moments.
“We’re sending motivational, encouraging cards – no matter their situation – whether they’re recovering from surgery, addiction, divorce or just a hard time,” said Jurgita Fumo, the 42-year-old New Albany woman behind the project. “It’s really nice to find in your mailbox a handwritten card that shows someone cares about you.”
People may nominate themselves or someone they know to receive the cards, which are made by Fumo and the organization’s volunteers, as well as people from local schools and businesses. Nominations may be submitted at celebratingone.org.
Fumo said that at first she didn’t realize the impact something as simple as a card could have.
“People have told me, ‘Your card saved my life,’ ” she said.
The genesis of the project goes back to 2016, when Fumo, through the event-planning business she ran at the time, decided to start giving back to those who might not be able to be hosts to parties for family members. Fumo said she began using a percentage of her sales to buy party supplies for those who might need it.
What she found, though, was that recipients seemed to be moved more by the gesture – and the fact that someone listened to them – than by the actual donated items. That’s when she decided to focus on providing mental encouragement instead of simply financial resources.
“I was seeing that people need more hugs, kindness and emotional support,” Fumo said.
The card-writing project is the major way Fumo and her team do this.
However, the organization also has other programs. It provides funds to high school seniors to help them celebrate graduation and serves as host to a number of support groups, an area it wants to grow in 2020. Fumo said the group aims to work more with senior citizens in the coming year, as well as adopt families in need.
The organization officially received its nonprofit status in January 2017, and Fumo said it has been off and running since then.
Longtime friend Cynthia Minter, 64, of Grove City didn’t hesitate to aid the mission she describes as helping people move forward and realize they are not alone. She said that’s what Fumo has done most of her life.
“One of the biggest things is seeing that bravery that Jurgita has ... to ask, ‘What’s your story? What’s really on your mind? What’s hurting you?’ ” Minter said. “This is the outcome of that bravery.”
Fumo, who gave up her event-planning business to focus on the nonprofit full time, said her own life’s journey allows her to relate to many people’s struggles.
As a youngster growing up in a small town in Lithuania, Fumo was raised by a single mother. When she was a teen, she became pregnant with her first son. She knows what it’s like to be a single mom, go through a divorce and live in a different country as an immigrant, she said. (She initially moved to Canada and is a Canadian citizen.)
She found love again, having married Paul Fumo in 2007, and she had a second son, who is 9.
Jurgita Fumo said she wants to take extra care of single-parent families, which is why Celebrating One Person at a Time provides support to graduating seniors in those families.
In May, the organization helped three Grove City High School seniors with their end-of-high school celebrations, said Dale Corbett, a counselor. One of the students, he said, was working 35 hours a week and was the first person in his family to graduate high school.
“They can’t afford everything that seniors might want,” Corbett said. “We’re not talking cars, but caps and gowns, prom, graduation pictures.”
With the help of personal donations and corporate sponsorship, Fumo and her team provided a photographer to take senior pictures, bought prom tickets and donated money for the families to go out for a celebratory dinner, among other services, Corbett said.
Corbett, at first, said he thought the offer from the nonprofit was too good to be true.
“They were very discreet, though,” he said. “I believe it was very well-received.”
The group already has identified some seniors to help this coming spring.
Whether someone’s need falls precisely in one of its programs, the organization is always willing to lend a hand, Fumo said. That’s how it became involved with the Petermans in the first place, paying for Josh to attend a taekwondo camp.
And that’s how the mother and son began receiving the cards they look forward to every month.
“These guys care so much,” Peterman said. “They sit down and take time out of their day, from playing games or spending time with their family, and care about me.”