News from the Tennessee Valley Living Today
SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007

D.J. Graffree plays with 6-year-old Ashley Townsend.
Daily file photo by John Godbey
D.J. Graffree plays with 6-year-old Ashley Townsend.

‘Today Show’ to tell D.J.’s story
Student of Year who once slept in a trash bin gets national attention

By Danielle Komis Palmer · 340-2447

The telling of D.J. Graffree’s success story as a child who went from sleeping in a trash bin on the streets to becoming a successful, bright student began humbly.

It was told one month ago at a Decatur City Schools banquet when D.J. was named the school system’s Elementary Student of the Year.

Soon, 11-year-old D.J.’s story will be featured on NBC’s “Today Show,” which will film him at Somerville Road Elementary School on Monday. The segment’s airdate is not yet set.

Other media outlets have also tried to get in touch with D.J. since his story broke, such as “The Montel Williams Show” and radio personality Rolanda Watts.

Somerville Road Elementary School principal Dee Dee Jones has fielded numerous calls and e-mails.

“It’s just reached everywhere,” she said. “I’ve gotten phone calls from across the United States. It has been amazing who all has read that story.”

The day after the story broke, she received about 25 calls and at least 40 e-mails. Colleges want him, individuals want to donate money to him, and a screenwriter in California was interested in writing his story, she said.

“It’s all come so fast,” Jones said.

After D.J. was featured in The Decatur Daily on May 22, his story was picked up nationally, reprinted in newspapers across the country and featured on national news Web sites.

Phone calls and e-mails from inspired readers flooded in, asking how they could help D.J. and his family.

D.J. has been eating up the attention, said Tony Townsend, who took D.J. in with wife Patti Lewis less than one year ago.

“It’s been going to his head a little bit,” he said. However, the attention has been overwhelming at times, he said.

“I just try to let him go out and play and don’t worry about all that other stuff,” Townsend said. “We didn’t expect all this.”

After the “Today Show” filming, Townsend said he thinks that will be it for D.J.’s moment in the sun. He’s worried about him getting “a really big head,” he said. Yet he’s grateful for all the warm letters and donations, he said.

“I just want to thank everybody for what they’ve done for us and helping him out with everything. All the help we can get with D.J., we appreciate a lot.”

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