The ‘youngest Philanthropists’
This article is the latest in The Sun’s “Be a Volunteer” series, focusing on people who join community nonprofits. Got a suggestion for a profile, email it to email@example.com
By Chris Lisinski
WESTFORD -- “No matter how old you are, you can make a difference.”
Those words, spoken by fifth-grader Sarah Cunniffe, form the central philosophy Cunniffe and seven of her classmates embody in their work to support their community.
As the group Westford Girls for a Better Tomorrow, they have organized two different events to raise money for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell, hoping to give others a chance to live comfortably.
Their walk-a-thon last weekend brought in almost $4,000, and now, the group is setting its sights even higher, hoping to make the event an annual one and eventually welcome new members to their efforts.
“It felt good that what we did went to good use,” said Jackie Clay, another of the group’s members.
The eight girls first met in kindergarten as Girl Scouts in Westford’s Troop 65499. They decided they wanted to become more involved, so they founded Westford Girls for a Better Tomorrow and chose Habitat for Humanity as the charity they would support.
In 2016, they held their first walk-a-thon, soliciting donations from participants. The group raised about $1,800, and they used that money to hand-pick doors, numbers and other amenities for a house that Habitat was building in Westford. That direct involvement encouraged them and made them even more interested.
“I think it’s really special that we were able to help this organization build somebody a home,” said member Audrey Smagula.
The walk-a-thon did not return the following year, but in 2018, the group renewed its efforts, meeting weekly since March to plan an even larger event. Jenn Smagula and Kristen Thomas, who serve as parent advisors, watched the girls take the reins themselves -- Thomas even described the role she and Smagula played as “project managers.”
“They put a fair amount of work into it,” Thomas said. “I’m really proud of them.”
Some of the fifth-graders went to local businesses and solicited donations of food and drink for the event. Others worked to register participants and encourage contributions to their cause.
On June 2, the group held its second walk-a-thon, a larger event both in size and fundraising. The parent advisors estimate the event drew a crowd of between 20 and 40 families and about $3,900 in donations.
That money, like the amount raised at the first walk-a-thon, will go directly to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Lowell’s efforts to build affordable housing in Westford. Lisa Garvey, who before becoming Habitat’s community outreach director met all members of the group when she worked at the Nabnasset Elementary School, said she was impressed by the “empathy” the girls showed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Westford Girls for a Better Tomorrow are the “youngest philanthropists” who work with Habitat, Garvey said.
“They really understand the mission of Habitat, and I think that’s the best thing about them,” she said. “They really believe in the mission that everyone deserves a decent place to live.”
The group plans to host another walk-a-thon next year. They are not certain how, but at some point, they would like to welcome other girls in the community who wish to participate in the planning. Most of all, they want their peers to know that anyone can help.
“It doesn’t matter your religion or your skin color or how old you are,” said Sarah Foley, another of the group’s members. “If you see something you don’t like or something you want to change, don’t be afraid to do something about it.”
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