When this week began, Christmas at Nikki Johnston's house was going to be sad and silent.
Someone had stolen her voice, the talking computer the 11-year-old has used since cerebral palsy robbed her of the ability to speak. The machine was uninsured. And, her family could not afford to replace it.
But after her story appeared in my Wednesday column, Nikki's mother, Toni Grothaus, and dad, Jeff Chandler, have received dozens of calls from strangers offering money.
''I can't believe this,'' Toni declared. ''The phone has rung non-stop. People have been so kind.''
''I'm in shock,'' Jeff said, ''and so grateful. I didn't think people cared like this anymore. Santa has come early.''
The couple received so many calls at their
Cheviot apartment, Jeff had to set up a special fund - the Nikki Fund - with United Cerebral Palsy of Cincinnati.
Based on the calls pouring into Nikki's home and received here at The Enquirer, her story has touched many people.
One company has promised to buy her DynaVox computer outright. Employees at other firms have made replacing the computer their personal goal. And many more individuals have reached out to help the little girl with the dark chocolate brown eyes who can only tell her mother she loves her by touching keys on a computer screen.
''I don't have much money,'' said John Dulley, a downtown shipping clerk. ''And I'm
not a very sentimental guy. But when I
read about her brown eyes and how she has to scoot across the floor, it made me cry. I have to send her something.''
Susan Franks, a receptionist at Bow-Wow Boutique in Columbia Township, plans to send $10. ''I got that as a tip for helping a guy start his car last Saturday night,'' she said. ''I was going to drop it in the collection plate at church. But this little girl needs it more. She needs to know that not all people are cruel.''
Money that reaches the Nikki Fund will go toward buying her a new talking computer. If that goal is met, any extra dollars will help buy similar computers for others who've lost their voices to cerebral palsy.
Sentient Systems of Pittsburgh makes the DynaVox talking computer. The model Nikki had has been discontinued. A new DynaVox would cost $7,500 and can be delivered to Nikki in two days. All Sentient needs is the money.
So far, $1,040 has been raised just from people walking into the Cheviot branch of the Provident Bank, where the Nikki Fund was first set up. Nikki's mom and dad moved the fund Thursday to United Cerebral Palsy of Cincinnati.
Along with individuals, entire work forces took time over the last two days to think about Nikki. Workers launched collection drives at the Gap Distribution Center in Erlanger, Saturn dealerships in Springdale and Florence, and the local corporate offices of Arby's Restaurants.
''Geeze, Louise,'' exclaimed Robert Weeda, Arby's human resources officer who plans to collect money for the Nikki Fund, ''her story hit awfully close to home. Her folks are hard-working people. They need help.''
On late Thursday afternoon, Fluor Daniel, the company cleaning up Fernald, offered to pick up the entire cost of the computer.
Dan Dilday, a project manager at the plant, read the column about Nikki and ''was ticked off that someone would commit such a senseless act. It made it even worse with it being the holiday season.''
Nikki's story touched his heart, too. He and his wife are expecting a child in April. ''I thought, that could be us. What would we do? Would people care enough to help us?''
To answer those questions, he went to his bosses and asked what the company could do. Fluor Daniel said it would pay for the whole thing.
So, it looks as if Nikki is going to get her computer - and her voice - back.
That's the power of compassion. And, that's the good news from Nikki's story.
Even better is that if her fund exceeds its goal, the overflow will go to help 12 other kids on a waiting list at United Cerebral Palsy of Cincinnati. These are 12 kids we've never met, 12 kids who have never had their pictures in the paper, 12 kids who need a computer to communicate.
But, the best news from Nikki's story is that all of Cincinnati came through. Rich and poor alike gave the gift of speech to a little girl.
Send donations to: The Nikki Fund, United Cerebral Palsy of Cincinnati, 3601 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, 45229. For information, call: 559-4601. All contributions are tax deductible.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.