All Daniel Jaicks wanted for his 16th birthday on April 9 was a lawnmower.
So, with that big gift covered, Daniel’s mother Joanna Jaicks asked the teen with autism if he would like his friends to bring him gifts at his birthday party or to bring pet food for the animals at South Carolina’s Charleston Animal Society, where he volunteered — the answer to that question came quickly, his mom tells PEOPLE.
“Daniel chose the animals right away,” Joanna says. “We’re very proud of him for making that choice!”
At his birthday party at Velocity Air Sports, an indoor trampoline park in North Charleston, Daniel collected $95 in cash and checks, two 50 lb. bags of dog food, two 25 lb. bags of food, four 5 lb. bags and a gift bag with cat toys and treats for cats and dogs, from about 30 guests.
All of the items will benefit animals at the Charleston shelter, where the teen has visited twice with his social/life-skills group, and the shelter couldn’t be more grateful.
“What an awesome gift for the animals,” said a Facebook post shared by the animal society on April 13. “Thank you Daniel, you are a kind and loving young man.”
During their visits to the shelter, the teens learned how to behave around animals, how to care for them, and helped make toys for the shelter’s cats — all of which Joanna says was beneficial to Daniel.
“Especially in how to properly interact with dogs upon first encountering them,” she says. “We also have 1 dog and 4 cats at home. Daniel has been around animals since he was born.”
While it hasn’t been scheduled, Joanna anticipates a third visit for the group. Until then, Daniel is having a ball with that brand spanking new lawnmower his parents gave him as a birthday present.
“He LOVES it!” Joanna says in an email. “It’s a Husqvarna, and he’s thrilled with it.”