A matter of faith

Sons of Norway raises money to help young burn victim

James Boyle

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Boyle
James (third from left) has always enjoyed spending time with his friends. Now they are there to support him.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Norwegians can be a very generous lot, and their help is now needed more than ever.

Although the coronavirus and its victims are on our minds, still others need our help. This is not to diminish the scourge that is upon us but a reminder to ensure that we don’t become so overwhelmed by COVID-19 that we lose sight of other issues.  

We may all be stretched to the limit, but it’s important to open our hearts and extend ourselves a little further to assist other people in crisis.

The Sons of Norway, an organization celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has taken up this challenge. 

As their website states, the “purpose and goals of the founders were to protect members of SON and their families from financial hardships experienced during times of sickness or death in the family.”

And now, 125 years after the organization was established on these ideals, “Sons of Norway District 3 is following in the footsteps of its founders” said Karen Olsen-Helmold, a member of Norden Lodge in Huntington, N.Y.

Olsen-Helmold had read about 16-year-old burn victim James Boyle of Hazel Green, Ala., and his family in the newsletter from Norrona Lodge in Pearl River, N.Y.

James’s mother, Jacqueline Boyle, shared his story:

“He was at a ‘Friendsgiving’ bonfire. He thought the fire was out and went to pour gasoline on it.  The vapors exploded. The gas came all over him and ignited him fully. Over 80% of his body was burned. When I got to him, I crumbled. When he saw me so upset, he said, ‘God’s got this, God’s got this.’


Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Boyle
James Boyle and his mother, Jacqueline, were overwhelmed by the show of support they met upon James’ homecoming from the hospital.

“When the burn unit of Vanderbilt Hospital did their initial assessment, we were told he had a 4% chance of survival. The doctor didn’t think she could save his hands. Treatment meant scraping the burn off his entire body. They didn’t do it to his hands, so they could determine if there was any living tissue. The doctor was able to save his hands but did have to amputate part of each of his 10 fingers.

“Prosthetics cost about $100,000. We are waiting to hear back from the insurance company to see what our portion of that cost will be. We think about $60,000.”  

The family now has to try to raise this amount, for them, a Herculean task.

After Olsen-Helmold read about James’ plight, she wanted to help by raising money to pay the differential for his prosthetic fingers. She was moved by James’ strong religious convictions and believes that is why he survived. 

She began her fundraising efforts by focusing on Son of Norway’s Zone 1, which runs from Brooklyn to Long Island. She then took her appeal to the entire Third District board, whose jurisdiction runs along the Eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida, encompassing 46 lodges. Olsen-Helmold created more than four dozen donation boxes for each lodge, with Boyle’s picture on every side. 

Olsen-Helmold shared how the effort is going: “I was trying to raise as much of that $60,000 I could get, collecting about $3,000, then the coronavirus struck.” (She thinks that some may have also donated directly to the family.) Her plan had been to give the donation boxes out at the zone’s convention, meetings, and memorials, but COVID-19 thwarted everything, as all these activities have been canceled.

Although she experienced a setback, Olsen-Helmold has not given up and is strategizing to see how to proceed. One idea she had was to reach out to The Norwegian American to publish an article to raise awareness of James’ struggle and bring it to the attention of our readers throughout the United States and beyond.

On April 11, James came home from the hospital, but he still needs about five more surgeries. His mother described his homecoming: 

“When we were coming home, we got texts from my daughter that the news was going to be at our house and that our neighborhood was full of cars. We had a little bit of a shock with the amount of people expected there. It was with good intention, but James doesn’t look the same, and that was difficult for him. So we stopped about 2 miles before we got home to show him the pictures my daughter had sent.

“I asked him, ‘Are you OK with this?’  He answered, ‘Well you can’t stop it. I don’t think it’s about me. I think people still need to see that God answers prayers. People need to see that.’”  

How can you support James and his family? You can send donations to: 

The Boyle Family
420 Delynn Drive
Hazel Green, AL 35750

Checks should be made out to James Boyle.

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.