FARGO - When George MacConnell and his family drove from their home in Veblen, S.D., to Fargo's Sky Zone Trampoline Park, he figured he'd have some fun hanging out during his nephew Wayde's birthday. He didn't figure on witnessing an act of kindness that would help another nephew break out of his shell long after the party was over.
MacConnell says 13-year-old Wayde, his 10-year-old niece Jynavi and a few friends were having a good time jumping and playing on the trampolines, but his 12-year-old nephew Sage was reluctant to join in.
"Sage is autistic. He's really shy around kids - even family," MacConnell says. "He doesn't want to play with the other kids so that day he just played video games."
That was fine with the family. MacConnell says after a while he went to the front desk to get more change for Sage to use in the machines, and he happened to mention to Sky Zone employee Nic Bordwell that Sage was playing the video games because he doesn't like crowds. That's when Bordwell offered to open up a closed off area of Sky Zone for Sage to jump alone. Sage agreed that he'd like to try it, with Bordwell paving the way.
"I started jumping," Bordwell says. "I figured if he saw me doing it, he might like to jump too."
MacConnell says his "bashful" nephew soon took to the trampoline and started having fun. And he's not the only one.
"We had a blast!" Bordwell says. "After a while we were racing. We started talking about how he likes Dragon Ball Z, and we talked a little about school. It was a lot of fun!"
In a Facebook post that has now gone viral amongst people wanting to share acts of kindness, MacConnell explained what happened next:
"As they played, other kids began to come in one at a time. He then began to get used to jumping and playing around others. I am so grateful to the young man and staff for showing my nephew that he's just like other kids, and that he is special and can have fun. Even when he (Nic) was called back to the front desk, he said 'it can wait' and he played and jumped with Sage for another 15 to 20 minutes so Sage could enjoy himself."
Bordwell, who attends Minnesota State University Moorhead when he's not working at Sky Zone, says spending time with Sage was something any one of his co-workers would have done.
"It's really the goal of everybody here. Not just one person. We all want to help the kids enjoy themselves as much as possible," Bordwell says.
Sky Zone owner Bruce Karevold says making sure the kids are having a great experience is second only in importance to safety, and he says Nic and his other "ambitious and energetic" employees just get it.
"Nic's a natural at engaging with the kids," Karevold says. "All he wants to do is have fun."
"I think when the kids see some of us 19 and 20-year-olds jumping along with them, it's not just a better experience for them, it's more fun for us too," Bordwell says.
Bordwell might just brush off what he did as just another day at the office, but MacConnell says his entire family was touched by the kindness he showed Sage.
"To see him go out of his way to make sure one kid was having fun, to spend so much time with him - no one does that anymore," MacConnell says. "It was heartwarming to see Sage open up a little."
MacConnell says his nephews and niece all slept well that night when they got home. And while the party might be over and the jumping ceased, the effect on Sage is not as fleeting.
"He owns Fargo now," MacConnell jokes. "He says, 'That's my place and that's my friend.' "
And what does that new friend say?
"That's awesome!" Nic says. "Sage is my friend too. We bonded."