By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Southborough – When Hannah Grimm, of Southborough, recently celebrated her 10th birthday, she gathered with friends, enjoyed cake and ice cream, but instead of untying ribbons and bows and tearing off colorful wrapping paper, she gathered donations from her guests for The Smiling Kids, Inc. This was the fourth year she had decided not to receive birthday gifts from her friends, but rather to donate to the Southborough nonprofit that provides less fortunate kids with birthday gifts they might otherwise not receive.
Smiling Kids was founded by a Southborough couple, Bob and Karen Sommers, to fill a gap in the lives of underserved children.
“Everyone should be able to experience the excitement and thrill of receiving a special gift on their birthday,” Bob said.
In 2003, the couple supported Toys for Tots and asked themselves, “What happens to these kids who get presents for Christmas when it's their birthday?” They started their nonprofit organization to meet that need, making sure that 100 percent of? donations go directly to the children. All operating expenses are paid for with separate donations.
Hannah's parents, John and Christine Grimm, learned about the group through one of Hannah's classmates and are proud of the fact that their daughter decided all by herself to help others. When she was 6, she announced to her parents, “I don’t need any presents – I have enough stuff.”
That first year, the family donated the gifts to Southborough Youth and Family Services. The director explained how important the gifts were for other children and how much of a difference Hannah's generosity made. Her gratitude and appreciation helped Hannah understand the importance of sharing and thinking of others.
Hannah knew about Smiling Kids from a sign on the baseball field of Mary Finn Elementary School.
“I also learned more about kids who don's have homes and sleep in cars or one room from a video we watched at school. It feels good to give them something. If you already have enough toys, you can give them away.? It makes you feel good to know you'se helping someone else.”
She hopes other children will think of using their birthday parties to be of assistance to others.
For the last three years, Hannah was able to present a check to Smiling Kids Inc. in front of her classmates and receive a Certificate of Smiles from Karen, president of the organization. Her contributions, along with other “parties with a purpose” donations and the fundraising efforts of the foundation have enabled Smiling Kids to give as many as 1,500 gifts a year to various social services organizations in Massachusetts, including Marlborough Community Services and Southborough Youth and Family Services.
In addition to her parents, Hannah's grandparents are impressed with her selflessness.
“I was overwhelmed when she first came up with the idea,” said Hannah's grandfather, Papa Fred Colbert, of Shrewsbury.
The family has always had a philosophy of helping others.
“When you share food, it tastes better,” said Hannah's grandmother Meme Judy Colbert.
Hannah's mother is proud of what her daughter is doing and that all this was completely Hannah's idea.? Her father, John Grimm, supports his daughter's choice.
“Everyone now has a birthday and smiling faces,” he said
The Smiling Kids program tries to do its work without fanfare.
“We get gift cards from local retailers for $25, then give those to various social organizations so that the parent or guardian can buy presents for their own kids,” explained Bob Sommers. “We want to remain in the background and keep the gifts anonymous.”
He added, “Karen and I would like to recruit more help to keep Smiling Kids going. We need a grant writer. We could use help with our website, administrative help and more fundraising help.”
To find out more about the organization, visit www.smilingkids.org, or call 508-486-9299.