On October 12, 2009, the Impact page was about 16 hours away from launch. Our months of preparation had led to this first week, and we wanted to make a strong impression. Everything was set up perfectly, stories in their proper place, blog post submissions read and revised, images cropped. There was just one problem: we didn't have a lead story.
We wanted to show HuffPost readers that the news doesn't stop when the article ends, that there was a chance for them to continue the story and be a part of it. We knew we couldn't make something up that wasn't there, and we couldn't come out of the gate without being able to prove our concept.
So, we were stuck.
And then we remembered the Steins.
There was a story published on TampaBay.com that had been aggregated by The Huffington Post's Bearing Witness 2.0 project some weeks before. Monique Zimmerman-Stein has Stickler syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that was making her go blind. Monique and her husband Gary did not know that she had this disorder when they had their three kids, but now they did know, and two of their three daughters were beginning to have sight problems.
Their policy under Blue Cross/Blue Shield would not continue to cover the injections that could preserve Zimmerman-Stein's eyesight. Faced with a tough decision, the Steins decided to spend what little money they had on saving the sight of their two youngest daughters. The story of this rare illness, and the medical bills that were mounting over their heads, stuck with us since we'd first read the story, and we wanted to follow up.
Impact editor Victoria Fine started making some calls. Within an hour she was on the phone with Lane DeGregory, the writer of the original story, and an hour later, we were talking to Gary Stein.
Let me say up front that the Stein family was not looking for a hand-out. They were hesitant about allowing their personal life to become front page news. We told them about Impact and what we believed to be the possibilities for real public involvement in the major political issues of the day. We talked about how their story was just one of hundreds of thousands, that America was at a turning point and that people wanted to help each other.
After speaking to both Gary and Monique, they agreed to allow us to retell their story.
The story went live on Impact the next morning at 10 a.m. PDT. I was horribly nervous. We'd reached out to a family struggling with debt I couldn't fathom, and convinced them to make their private lives public. We were asking for people to help in a very specific way -- something that I don't think had ever been done before on The Huffington Post.
By that night, I was able to exhale. We had already raised $10,000 and comments on the post were overwhelmingly positive. People were touched by the Stein family's story and wanted to contribute. Though it's certainly only a temporary solution, the catharsis I -- and I think, the HuffPost community -- felt at the astounding level of generosity we'd witnessed was enough to suggest that Impact was working and could continue to be a giving outlet for Internet users.
By the next morning, the funds raised were up to $20,000, and we topped off near the end of the week at over $30,000. I've had several phone conversations with Gary Stein since then, and he's consistently expressed how amazed and humbled he is by the turn of events. I feel the same way.
The story of the Steins is one that, ideally, we wouldn't have to tell. However, the response from the HuffPost community and the knowledge that a family in trouble had been helped, if only temporarily, made even a cynical grump like me hopeful.
I hope that everyone reading this, whether they participated in the Stein fundraiser or not, will continue to follow Impact and make their voices heard, whether it be through donations, public service, calling a representative, or even just writing a blog.
Write to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you.