Jan. 20 will forever stick in Elise Albosta’s mind.
That is the day her husband, Andy, fell about 50 feet while rock climbing in Cascade Canyon. He was rescued by San Juan County Search and Rescue and flown to the intensive-care unit of University of New Mexico Hospital, where doctors treated him for internal bleeding, a broken pelvis and a fractured elbow.
He immediately underwent successful emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and another surgery to remove his spleen. He was sedated the first few days, going in and out of consciousness. Luckily, he would be all right. However, it would be months before he would be able to work again. Medical bills would soon join a pile of bills his family needed to pay.
“It was amazing,” Elise said. “It was a nice surprise.”
The Albosta family’s case isn’t unique. Based on a snapshot last month, the Durango community had created 489 GoFundMe campaigns since 2011. More than 17,000 people have donated to those causes, resulting in more than $1.6 million in donations.
GoFundMe was created in 2010 and allows users to raise money for a variety of reasons, such as medical expenses, scholarship funds or family emergencies. Last year, 161 campaigns were started in the area, and as of last month, 60 campaigns had been started in 2018.
The most popular campaign in the community is a memorial fund for Capt. Jeff Kuss, a member of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron who lost his life in a jet crash in June 2016. Other popular campaigns that have recently occurred in the community include a medical fund for Durango High School freshman Wiley Corra, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in March, and multiple funds to help people displaced by last summer’s Tercero Townhouse fire, which killed Kevin Abeyta, 24.
GoFundMe is one of the most popular crowdfunding websites, but it isn’t the only one. Crowdfunder is a similar website geared toward entrepreneurs and startups, while Kickstarter focuses mainly on creative projects. GoFundMe distinguishes itself from the others by allowing users to create a campaign for anything.
GoFundMe also allows users to create campaigns on behalf of others, as was the case with the Albosta family. Elise said she wasn’t aware of the campaign until two weeks after it was created.
“My phone was ringing, but it was a pretty traumatic time,” she said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to anything other than my husband. While I was dealing with that drama, one of my girlfriends apparently knew about the site – the service they offer. She took the initiative to set it up for us. I didn’t realize it was a thing until I logged in and checked it out and read everyone’s messages.”
While her friend initially created the page, all funds were sent directly to Elise’s bank account once she had set up an account. Once that account was created, she was in total control of the page. If a beneficiary account isn’t set up within 30 days, donations are refunded to the original donors.
The site takes advantage of social media platforms by allowing users to share campaigns they have donated to, which can lead to campaigns going viral.
The Albosta family’s page was shared 575 times on Facebook, resulting in people from all over the country donating to the family, she said.
“I was blown away,” Elise said. “It kind of took over on the internet. It seems like we had a lot more contributions than I could attach names to.”
Some people didn’t want to donate through GoFundMe for various reasons, she said. Some were leery of the site’s online security, while others wanted to donate directly to the family without a portion of the donations going to the site. GoFundMe collects 2.9 percent of donations and 30 cents from each GoFundMe transaction, according to its website.
“I don’t think the fees were out of line at all,” she said. “They seemed pretty minimal.”
A quarter of the pages in the Durango area are for medical expenses, the most popular reason a GoFundMe page is created in the area. Other popular categories include education, emergencies, animals and volunteer opportunities.
Carrie Lyons, a third-grade teacher at The Juniper School, recently used the site to help her students fund a field trip to the Old Hundred Gold Mine in Silverton.
The class initially brainstormed ideas to raise money for the trip and decided to hold a fundraiser at Buckley Park. The night before the fundraiser, Lyons posted on her personal Facebook page asking her friends to come. Family and friends who weren’t in the area reached out and wanted to donate to the cause, so as an afterthought, Lyons set up a GoFundMe page.
The class needed $423 to pay for bus expenses and admission to the mine. The class ended up raising $817 in total, with $385 coming from GoFundMe.
Most people who have set up a page haven’t met their fundraising goals. Of the 489 campaigns in the Durango area, only 66 have met their listed goals and 37 didn’t raise a single dollar. In total, local campaigns had raised $1,604,409 but were seeking a total of $7,894,853.
The money raised for the Albostas has been going toward both medical bills and home bills, Elise said. Andy, who owns his own electrical company, has been working part-time for his company as he continues to recover.
As an electrician, his work requires a certain amount of physical exertion, and his doctors haven’t told him when he can work full-time again.
The Albosta family is grateful for the support they’ve received from the Durango community, Elise said.
“It’s been very beneficial,” she said. “It was surprising, but the support has been great.”