OPELIKA, AL (WTVM) – For most teenagers, turning 16 years old means looking forward to a few freedoms: driving, an extended curfew, and perhaps feeling a little bit more like an adult.
But for Jake Helms, a 15-year-old Opelika High School rising sophomore, he's looking forward to birthday cards and dollar bills that are quickly filling up his mailbox, thanks in large part to big hearts across the country and his mom, Luanne Mitchell Helms.
"This is Jake! Jake will be 16 on June 4. Jake has non-verbal autism and epilepsy. He doesn't let that keep him from facing each day with a smile and positivity. Jake loves to get mail, so for his very special sweet 16 we are asking each of you to help us make his milestone birthday one to remember! We are taking Jake to SkyView Atlanta and Georgia Aquarium for his birthday, what we are asking of you is to drop a card and $1 bill to give him spending money for HIS big day! YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SEND a $1, but I do hope you join in this project to fill Jake's mailbox with cards from all over the US, BY SHARING THIS PAGE AND INVITING YOUR FRIENDS TO DO THE SAME!!!!! Thanks and God bless! ?#?otownjake?," his mom wrote on May 15 on Facebook.
That message was one of the first on the Facebook page, Jake's Birthday Club, with a mom simply asking a few folks to send her son birthday cards. The page now has more than 1,100 likes and grows by the day.
"I began Jake's Birthday Blub mostly in part because he deserves so much. Jake is 15 and will be coming up on a milestone birthday June 4, and as I got to thinking he has never been able to use his voice to ask me for a gift, so this project is my gift to him," Helms said.
The word has spread across the country, and Helms said each piece of mail containing a birthday card makes Jake the happiest kid in the world.
Helms said Jake has received more than 200 birthday cards, with most of them being from outside of Opelika and Auburn.
"Jake has gotten 240 cards in the mail most recently a visit from Opelika Police Department, and an autographed card from pro bass fisherman Hank Parker," Helms said. "He has a visit from Columbia Southern University out of Orange Beach, FL, scheduled for next week."
Aside from his love of getting mail, Jake's mom said he's an active teen, participating in Special Olympics bowling and track and field events. Jake also loves the Auburn Tigers, basketball, walking and watching YouTube videos.
An Opelika startup, Fund Some Fun, has also started a fundraiser in Jake's honor.
"Dylan, one of the founders of this organization, contacted me and asked if they could do this for Jake," Helms said.
Fund Some Fun helps people crowdfund fun stuff for acutely, chronically, or terminally ill children. After seeing a presentation on how GoPro cameras help people with non-verbal conditions, the group decided they wanted to do more.
"With the GoPro camera gift, our hope is that Jake will be able to relive and celebrate his 16th birthday over and over again! Happy Birthday, Jake!" the fundraising page says.
To see the fundraising page, or if you'd like to donate, click here.
If you'd like to send Jake a birthday card ahead of his June 4 birthday, you can find out how by going to the Jake's Birthday Club Facebook page.
If you want to learn more about autism, you can visit Autism Speaks by clicking here.
To view a slideshow of the pictures form Jake's Birthday Club, click here.