GoFundMe campaign sends Bruton grad with special needs back to college

WILLIAMSBURG — Chris Carter returned to George Mason University on Friday, bringing with him two suitcases full of clothes and the support of a community.

Carter, 24, is a Bruton High School graduate enrolled in the Mason LIFE program, a college program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Until a week ago, he would have had to drop out of the program because his family wasn't able to cover all of his tuition – which would have amounted to about $19,000 plus housing costs. PELL grants only covered part of it, and because of the nature of the program, Carter isn't eligible for other types of college loan financing.

But the greater Williamsburg community has rallied around him, supporting his GoFundMe.org campaign with thousands of dollars in donations during the past week.

"It's just like a whirlwind. I'm just so happy to be going back to school," Carter, a rising junior, said in an interview Wednesday. "... I'm just stunned. I'm happy and crying at the same time. Words just can't describe what type of feelings I've been feeling the past couple of days."

By Thursday afternoon, the GoFundMe.com campaign had been shared more than 600 times on Facebook, and on Friday it hit $6,700 from 150 donors. More than $1,000 has come in via donations to an Apple Bank savings account set up in Carter's name. The initial goal was to reach $10,000, but the amount the family did receive will allow him to start school in the fall and give them more time to save up the difference for the spring semester, so Carter won't age out of the program.

GMU's LIFE program is open to students ages 18 to 23. Current students at the older end of that age range are able to complete the program after they turn 23. But at this point, if he had to skip a semester, he wouldn't have been able to return because he would have been too old.

In many ways, Carter is a typical college student: He enjoys his classes, likes hanging out with his friends and plays on Mason LIFE soccer, softball, basketball and track and field teams. Each semester, students in the Mason LIFE program take one class integrated alongside other GMU students. For Carter, that meant recently taking a sports management class, which his mother Renee Carter said he loved and excelled in.

She describes her son's intellectual disability as mild.

"Chris really flows right along with everything," Renee Carter previously told the Gazette. "He does everything on his own. He's very good in his class."

She said she will be crying joyful tears when she and husband Brenner Carter take Christopher back to GMU on Friday.

"We want to thank all those who supported him to get back there," she said.

Want to help? Visit http://www.gofundme.com/ChrisCarter. For those who prefer traditional means, contributions can be mailed to Apple Federal Credit Union, PO Box 1200, Fairfax, VA 22038-1200. On the check memo note Christopher Carter Education Super Saver Acct #10610000310454.

Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.