Community steps up for Oakwood 7-year-old: ‘We are so grateful’

The Holzberg family was surprised and grateful to receive the support of family, friends and colleagues as well as the community when they raised $18,000 in 24 hours to help get their son George a service dog. George has Down syndrome. L-R Helen, Lewis, Leo, Angie, George and Anthony Holzberg. CONTRIBUTED
The Holzberg family was surprised and grateful to receive the support of family, friends and colleagues as well as the community when they raised $18,000 in 24 hours to help get their son George a service dog. George has Down syndrome. L-R Helen, Lewis, Leo, Angie, George and Anthony Holzberg. CONTRIBUTED

Friends, family members and co-workers quickly raise $18K to help George get a service dog

On this Thanksgiving Day, the world is a vastly different place than it was even a year ago. Families are struggling financially and mentally, and people are missing family members who traditionally gather in person for the holidays. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. But it has also given people time to pause and count their blessings, both large and small.

One Oakwood family is extremely grateful this year for their local community, friends and family members who have come together to help make life better and safer for their youngest son.

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Angie and Anthony Holzberg have four children, Helen, 19, Lewis, 13, Leo, 11, and 7-year-old George, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome as an infant.

“We didn’t find out George had Down syndrome until his one-week, well checkup,” Angie said. “It was a traumatic time, but we kept seeing people turning trauma into something inspiring.”

A genetic disorder, Down syndrome causes certain distinct facial appearances, intellectual disability, developmental delays and often, thyroid or heart disease.

George Holzberg, 7, has Down Syndrome and needs the help of a professional service dog to both to remind him to focus in school and help keep him safe should he wander. His family recently raised $18,000 in just 24 hours, thanks to the generosity of the community, family, co workers and friends.
George Holzberg, 7, has Down Syndrome and needs the help of a professional service dog to both to remind him to focus in school and help keep him safe should he wander. His family recently raised $18,000 in just 24 hours, thanks to the generosity of the community, family, co workers and friends.

In George’s case, as he grows bigger and more curious, he also tends to wander off to investigate the world around him.

“George is getting to the age when he is able to open up doors,” Angie said. “He can speak a little, but if he were to get out of the house and get lost, I’m not confident that he could tell anyone where he lives. And on several occasions, he has run into the street.”

The Holzberg family joined the Miami Valley Down Syndrome Association after George was diagnosed and through networking with other parents, Angie learned that getting a service dog for her son might help give him some independence, but also keep him safe.

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“A service dog can help track George and also help him stay focused at school,” Anthony said. “He gets distracted and since he is in full inclusion school in Oakwood, he is with typical peers. It’s easy to for him to get off task.”

Angie immediately reached out to 4 Paws for Ability, a service dog organization located right here in the Miami Valley in Xenia. The organization’s mission is to provide service dogs for children and adults with disabilities and they tailor each dog’s training for the specific needs of the family.

“A colleague of mine has a child with autism and they have a 4 Paws dog,” Angie said.

But professional trained service dogs are expensive — about $40,000 to $60,000 total — and 4 Paws asks that each family do a fundraising campaign to help pay a portion of the cost.

“We decided to start a fundraising campaign through Facebook,” Angie said. “We just leaped into it, but, to be honest, it seemed like it was going to be impossible. It was just too daunting.”

Anthony and Angie, both teachers, believed it would take years to raise enough money to get George his dog. And they said that asking people for money during a global pandemic was difficult.

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“We just put it up on Facebook with George’s story, and it took off!” Anthony said. “We had no idea what to expect and we were both nervous and felt vulnerable.”

But there is just something special about their little boy. Friends, neighbors and colleagues from Oakwood and beyond gave, and gave generously. Within 24 hours, the family raised $18,000.

“You don’t realize all the circles you become part of over the years,” Anthony said. “We both went to the University of Cincinnati and our daughter is there now. There was a group who knew us from our time in college who donated.”

Angie was born and raised in Oakwood, but Anthony is originally from New Jersey. Once the fundraiser went public, people they knew from years ago and from across the country donated.

The Holzberg family of Oakwood were recently surprised by the support of their family and friends when they received $18,000 in donations to help their youngest son George (second from left) get a service dog. George has Down syndrome. From left are Leo, George, Helen and Lewis. CONTRIBUTED
The Holzberg family of Oakwood were recently surprised by the support of their family and friends when they received $18,000 in donations to help their youngest son George (second from left) get a service dog. George has Down syndrome. From left are Leo, George, Helen and Lewis. CONTRIBUTED

“With everyone so isolated now, it was even more emotional for us and we were crying all day,” Angie said. “Hundreds of college students donated $5 and $10 and what little money they had. It was amazing.”

One hundred percent of the donations the Holzbergs received went directly to 4 Paws for George’s service dog. The family was immediately added to the list, and it will be at least four to six months before the dog is fully trained and comes home to Oakwood.

“We are so grateful to both Oakwood and Mad River schools, our family, friends and colleagues and everyone who donated to help George and our family,” Angie said. “This dog will help George in so many ways and it could very well end up saving his life.”

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