COLUMBIA - 18-year-old Christian Birtell wants to make a difference while he's studying at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
"Being here at Mizzou, I want to make the place better than I found it," Birtell said.
Like the building’s on the campus’ iconic Francis Quadrangle, you could say the MU freshman wants to build something, too.
“Yes, there’s a metaphor with what I’m trying to do,” he said looking around the quad. “This is the first thing, the first like big project that I’m doing...I’m trying to build a legacy.”
Birtell’s mission first started back at home in Chicago in 2019
“I wanted to do something to say thank you to all the first responders in the area,” he said.
He organized what he calls a ‘Dinner for First Responders.’ He raised money to buy gift cards to local restaurants and then gave them out to police officers, fire fighters and health care workers.
His dinner took on a new meaning in 2020 during the pandemic and following the death of George Floyd.
“And me as an African American I thought, you know, me personally, I’m angry about what’s happening,” Birtell said.
He hoped to also use the dinner as a way to connect the minority community to law enforcement officers.
“In the face of hate and adversity, just go out there and just do the exact opposite of what I’ve seen happen and that is to spread love,” Birtell said.
Now, he’s hoping to assemble something similar in Columbia.
“There are a lot of things that are broken right now, but we can fix them.”
He’s hoping to raise $7,200. It’s a specific number for a reason.
“That is the amount I need to feed the entire Columbia Police Department, entire Columbia Fire Department, entire Mizzou EMS and police department and a good swath of nurses,” Birtell said.
You can see his passion extends beyond campus. He spends his weekends as a nurse tech at MU Health Care. And he’s currently a pre-nursing student at MU.
“He is just such a happy, positive person,” Kelsie Owens said, a nurse on the cardiology unit where Birtell works. “You would never guess that he was 18, starting college, you would never know that about him with all of his goals and dreams and how much of a good, hard worker he is.”
His co-workers said they can see the foundation he’s pouring, too.
“I feel like it’s just one of those people that he can see the good in a lot of situations,” Samantha Loman said, another nurse on the unit. “And he doesn’t give up. He just keeps going, wanting to just do more good.”
“Honestly, I just hope they keep their eyes on him because he’s going to do wonderful, great things, he really is,” Owens said.
Birtell said he hopes you’ll join him. He wants to build something better together.
“If I can do it , what’s stopping literally any of the other 312 million Americans in this country from doing other things like this too,” he said. “It starts a movement in the right direction.”
Birtell hopes to raise enough money by the end of the summer to put together the dinner by the fall. He said he’s even written letters to the White House, the Obamas and Missouri’s professional sports teams asking for support.
To learn more about or donate to the 'Dinner for First Responders', click here.