The Lookout

Generosity greatly changes fortunes of bullied bus monitor

Jason Sickles, Yahoo
The Lookout

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Screenshot of campaign for Karen Klein (Indiegogo.com)

Life hasn't always been kind to Karen Klein.

She was a widow at 51.

She lost her son, Rusty, to suicide 10 years ago.

She had to take out a loan against her paid-off home to make ends meet.

Health problems have limited her hearing and, sometimes, her ability to walk.

Then, last month, a video of the school bus monitor being badgered by four seventh-graders went viral. For 10 minutes, the foul-mouthed boys peppered her with insults about her weight, hearing aids, economic status and worse.

"You don't have a family because they all killed themselves because they didn't want to be near you," one of the bullies said.

It's no wonder the 68-year-old still has a tough time accepting that thousands of good Samaritans are about to change her life forever.

"I didn't realize there were so many nice people out there in the world," Klein, who lives in upstate New York, told Yahoo News this week.

That's because a stranger's online campaign to fund a vacation for Klein also went viral. Instead of pledging the requested $5,000, donors have given nearly $700,000 to the drive, which ends at midnight Friday.

A half-million dollars was raised in the first four days, with pledges coming from 84 countries and every state in America.

"It doesn't seem like this is me that this is happening to," Klein said. "It's just unbelievable. I don't know when I'm going to come back to Earth."

The outpouring took place on Indiegogo.com, a website for online fundraising. The site combines Web payments and social media to enable anyone to raise money for anything.

"It's pretty remarkable," Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin said of the bus monitor campaign.

The co-founder of the 5-year-old site attributed the campaign's success to the viral video, people fed up with bullies, and the technology to respond immediately. The boys had their bus privileges suspended and must attend an alternative school for one year.

"The world came together to act and say, 'Hey, this woman needs a vacation, and more importantly, this is our way of making a statement about bullying,'" he said.

More than 31,000 people have made pledges. The average donation was $21, but one person contributed $3,000.

"Are you kidding? For me? What did I do?" Klein told Yahoo News. "Why are these people going crazy like this for me?"

Klein will get the money, minus Indiegogo's 4 percent handling fee, next week.

"It's going to be an exciting day," Rubin said.

The amount raised is more than 40 times Klein's $15,506 annual salary as a bus monitor. She's been a bus driver and monitor in Greece, N.Y., for 23 years. Before that she worked as a banquet server and store clerk.

"Yeah, it's time to retire," said Klein, who reportedly will not have to pay taxes on the goodwill.

In retirement, she said she hopes to get involved in causes to prevent bullying and suicide. She'd also like to help special-needs children.

"I'm not a great speaker ... but I would like to try to do something," Klein said. "Kids write to me and tell me that they've been bullied. The kids that get bullied ... I hate it."

Strangers have written asking for money, but she knows she must pay her bills and take care of her family first. Two grandchildren are disabled and other family members are unemployed.

"Things have not been real good in the family," said Klein, who has three children and eight grandchildren. "It's going to go very fast. That's why I need to set some aside. And I don't feel like I'm going to be a different person because of the money. I'm just going to be me."

Besides money from the Indiegogo campaign, she's also received multiple trips and other gifts, including a blanket and pillow from USC's Davis School of Gerontology.

"That's the study of old people," Klein explained with a chuckle.

Cards and letters continue to arrive at her door daily.

"I kind of live in a little world of my own here," she said. "Opening up letter after letter after card after card of people saying how much they like me and what I did, it really boosts your morale."

And her spunk.

"Oh, I did make one big purchase," she said proudly. "A three-wheeled bike. It has a basket on the back, so I could even ride it to the store!"

Enjoy the ride, Karen Klein.

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