ICKY JOHNSON HAS AN entrepreneurial drive that would make Donald Trump proud.
But the Columbiana 12-year-old doesn't dream of private jets and lavish parties -- or even more youthful distractions such as video games and stereo equipment. For almost a year, Johnson has devoted nearly every penny he has earned to helping his grandmother, who suffers from lung cancer and has been unable to work.
"Every day, if it's 50 cents, he comes home from school and tosses it in the jar and tries to make sure she doesn't have to worry," said Ricky's mother, Michelle Johnson.
Ricky is no stranger to cancer. His aunt suffered two bouts of the disease, as have a pair of family friends.
Last year, his grandmother, Barbara Wilinski, became ill. Ricky said he made a container to collect whatever money he could find or earn.
"I just wanted to help her, because she's sick, and help her pay her bills," he said.
Michelle Johnson said her son started with $27 worth of rolled coins and then steadily added to the pot.
In a few months, Ricky Johnson had collected $140. East Palestine residents Maggie and Mark Buchner, who attend church with the Johnsons, agreed to match that amount for a total of $280.
"And it was exactly what my mom's mortgage was," Michelle Johnson said.
Maggie Buchner said, "He is one of the kindest-hearted boys I've ever seen. He's amazing."
Buchner said she was inspired to add to his contributions.
"It's like God put something in your heart to do," she said. "He's so unselfish. He's just so amazing. You don't see many children his age working for other people. Usually, it's for themselves."
More than money
Michelle Johnson said since then her son has donated most of his allowance and tips he makes working at the family restaurant, Shellabella's in Columbiana.
She said her 55-year-old mother, who lives in Arizona, had to leave her job at a department store about six months ago. Too young for Social Security, she has watched her medical bills skyrocket while she has withered to about 90 pounds.
Ricky said he began searching for more creative ways to earn money. He said he started selling his lunches to classmates at Columbiana Middle School.
"I'd still have something else. I'd pack extra," he said.
He said he buys packages of eight candy bars for $1 a box and sells the treats for 50 cents each. All of it goes into the jar, he said.
Wilinski's great wish during the just-passed Christmas season was to see her family, Michelle Johnson said. She said her son was able to earn enough money to help pay for half of his plane ticket and part of the car rental -- and deliver $700 to help his grandmother pay bills.
"She cried, and she cried, and she cried," Michelle Johnson said.
Ricky has expanded his philanthropy to include Teri Weingart, the sister of the restaurant's landlord, and Steve Martello, the father of family friend Laurie Weber.
About a week ago, Johnson and his mother started making angel magnets, crystal angels and other angel crafts. They sell the items, ranging from $3 to $7, to customers at the restaurant.
All proceeds will be divided evenly among Wilinski, Weingart and Martello.
"People need to know that if you get cancer, it doesn't end, even if it's in remission, because you still have all the bills and you still worry," Michelle Johnson said.