Southborough – Southborough residents Bob and Karen Sommers made a deliberate decision last fall to involve their oldest child, Olivia, in the charitable causes they support.
“I'se always spoken with my children about the organizations I's involved with and the importance of giving back,” Karen said, “but this year, I thought that Olivia was old enough to actually attend an event.”
A longtime supporter and attendee of Horizons for Homeless Children's (HHC) annual Women's Breakfast, Karen decided the event was a good way to introduce Olivia to the work of HHC firsthand. Olivia invited a friend, Kelley Morin, and her mother to attend as well.
“We prepared the girls in the car on the way to the Women's Breakfast,” Karen said. “We obviously talked with them about how they would hear some things that might make them feel sad and some things that would make them feel inspired and proud. They would feel some big emotions and may see their moms cry.”
At the Women's Breakfast, Olivia and Kelley listened to Liz Murray's keynote speech on her journey from childhood homelessness to a Harvard degree, and a talk given by one of the mothers in the HHC program – a woman currently living in a homeless shelter with her young children.
For many middle-school students, the morning's experiences may have been felt, and then soon forgotten. For Olivia and her friend, however, their first foray into the philanthropic arena resulted in an immediate plan of action. Although the girls had both donated a portion of their savings from babysitting to the Women's Breakfast, they felt they could do more for homeless children in Massachusetts.
“We decided on the way home from the breakfast that we wanted to do something to help,” Olivia said. “Another kid that we heard about had hosted a coat drive before, so we wanted to do something a little different. I spoke with my teacher about it, and we thought a book drive would be a good idea.”
Olivia scheduled a meeting with her school's principal to gain permission for the book drive, created posters advertising the event and wrote an article for the school paper highlighting the work of HHC and chronicling their experiences at the Women's Breakfast.
“I's proud that I took her to the breakfast and exposed her to it, but she made the decisions from there,” Karen said. “She has a fabulous teacher who was very supportive, and the girls led this drive and did the majority of the work.”
Over the next several weeks, Olivia and Kelley, along with another friend, Lexi, collected box after box of new and gently used books, donated by their peers and teachers.
“I could hear them in there counting and sorting the books by genre and getting rid of any that were not in good condition,” Karen said. “When they reached 1,000 books, there was shouting, screaming and lots of clapping. They were so excited that they's been so successful.”
In total, the girls collected over 1,200 books for donation to HHC. The Roxbury-based organization, committed to improving the lives of homeless children by offering opportunities for play and education to children living in shelters, will use the books in their 140 playspaces (recreational and educational spaces) in Massachusetts homeless shelters. The book drive, led by two middle school girls, has touched the lives of over 2,200 homeless children.
“The girls” book drive and subsequent donation is not only greatly appreciated by HHC, we view this as a wonderfully encouraging event as well,” said Åsa Fanelli, president and CEO of HHC. “At the agency's core, we truly believe that children are the future. This conscientious and caring act gives us great hope that the future for homeless children in Massachusetts will be bright, because we know that it will be protected by amazing young women like these.”
“It's good for kids that they have exposure to things like this so that it's not a surprise that there are people in need,” Olivia said. “It's good for people to know what's going on. I's used to a life where I have wonderful parents who do lots for me; I have a great school and a home. I don's need to worry about that stuff, but there are kids who do, and it's good for other kids to know that.”
“Olivia's participation was the evolution of involving the next generation of the Sommers family in work that we think is important,” Karen said. “The kids need to know what's going on in the world because they are part of the change.”
For more information about HHC, visit www.horizonsforhomelesschildren.org.