A photo of a Maine teenager sitting by herself at her birthday party is going viral and prompting people to send her cards.
The photo of 18-year-old Hallee Sorenson was shared on Facebook by her cousin, Rebecca Guildford of Oxford, Massachusetts, who wrote that Hallee has autism.
"Hallee is funny, sweet, caring, smart, an athlete, a jigsaw puzzle champion, a wonderful student, and a best friend to all. Hallee is an amazing person — a person I am proud to be related to," she wrote. "She is also a person who just happens to have Autism. She has never let that small detail define who she is as a person — which is why I refuse to use it as something to describe her."
She described the heartbreaking scene at Sorenson's last birthday party — the teen had sent invitations to classmates and other friends, and was excited to go bowling with them.
"Hallee sat at her party anxiously waiting for her friends to arrive so they could have fun," Guildford wrote. "But Hallee's friends would never arrive. Not a single one."
It was Sorenson's 18th birthday. What should have been a milestone of adulthood was instead painful and lonely, Guildford wrote.
"My cousin is a beautiful young woman who will always have the mind of a child," she wrote. "She was heartbroken and beyond sad. She was hurt."
Guildford wants her cousin's next birthday, in July, to be special. She is asking people reading her Facebook post to send birthday cards.
As of Friday morning, the post had been shared more than 136,000 times and received dozens comments from people pledging to send cards.
When Guildford first posted the photo, she hoped she would convince 50 to 100 of her friends to send cards to Hallee. Now she has been deluged with emails, including ones from Ireland, Italy and France.
"This has blown up to something I couldn't have even thought of in my wildest dreams," she said. "It's overwhelming, but in a good way. I definitely never saw this coming."
If people take one message from the photo, she hopes it is to be kind to one another, she said. Hallee still remembers her disappointment last year, she said.
"I'm hoping that with all of this that we're able to replace those negative memories with some really good, strong, awesome memories of what a birthday really should be like," Guildford said.
Guildford noted that many people have been asking about sending gifts, and that while her family appreciates the sentiment, "gifts truly aren't necessary. A nice card would be just fine!!!"
People who wish to send cards may direct them here:
34 Wellesley Way
Bangor, ME 04401
"Hal loves getting mail — this would be the best birthday gift she could ask for," Guildford wrote.