By Steve Guntli
It’s the first rule of the Internet: don’t read the comments section. But Bob and Dorita Gray broke that rule, and it made them happier than they thought possible.
The comments were on a crowdfunding website set up by Ferndale firefighter Michael Gustafson, who wanted to help raise money to make repairs to the Grays’ house. The response was instantaneous and overwhelming, and the comments reflected generations of Blaine residents who did not hesitate to voice their support.
“Reading all those comments has been wonderful,” Dorita said. “This proves to me there is good in this world, and it proves that Bob and I were right to believe in all those kids and families for so long.”
The Grays are fixtures in the community, serving for years as educators and artists. Bob has been the band teacher in Blaine for 35 years. He’s contributed to the Blaine Jazz Festival and the Whatcom Symphony and oversees student exchange programs between Blaine and Japan. Dorita is an artist active with Allied Arts of Whatcom County. Each year she spearheads the Art and Jazz fundraiser at Blaine Middle School, which raises money for school arts programs.
In recent years, the Grays have faced some hard times. Dorita has been fighting cancer, and the expense of her treatment has meant needed repairs to their home have had to be postponed indefinitely.
Gustafson learned of their plight in February. A friend of the Grays had contacted the fire department to come and look at the couple’s roof, which was leaking and badly in need of repair. The firefighters at the scene heard bits and pieces of the Grays’ story, and decided to contact Gustafson to see if he had any ideas about fundraising efforts that could help the family.
“I came to look at the house and I talked to the Grays, and the ball started rolling from there,” he said.
Dorita said she didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the project when it was first suggested.
“I thought we were going to pay for the materials, and some volunteers were going to come out and help with the labor,” she said.
Gustafson launched a campaign on the crowdfunding website YouCaring.com to help raise money for repairs. Gustafson set an initial goal of $15,000 to repair the roof. The website went live at midnight on February 25; by the morning of February 26, the campaign had surpassed its goal. As of this writing, 148 donors have given more than $24,000.
“It was incredible,” Gustafson said. “All credit for the success of the fundraiser goes to Bob and Dorita themselves. The Blaine community really latched on to this cause, because Bob and Dorita have given so much to the community over the years.”
Local building supply and construction companies, such as Mount Baker Roofing and Blaine’s Pacific Building Center, have agreed to do the work at reduced cost, and more than a dozen people have volunteered to help out.
Since the early fundraising was such a success, Gustafson decided to raise the goal to $25,000, which will allow him and a group of volunteers to work on landscaping and repair the deck. If the project goes over the goal, the extra money will be put towards making some interior improvements, such as remodeling the bathroom.
Dorita said she’s been completely overwhelmed by the support.
“I’m so humbled, and so blessed,” she said. “I wish there was a way to package this feeling and pass it along, because I know there are so many families in the region that have it worse than we do. I just hope I can find a way to thank everyone.”
There is no deadline to contribute to the campaign. To donate, visit youcaring.com/bob-and-dorita-gray-527055.