Let's Help Kids

Loudoun Girl Started Non-Profit

Rachel Harris’s idea to start a business began during reading time in her kindergarten class. Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, a book by Carol McCloud, left a lasting impression on the 6-year-old and inspired her to help children “whose parents don’t have enough money to buy them things that they really want.”

Article by Jim Barnes
Photo by Lisa Bolton

(Originally published in The Washington Post, 4 March 2013 edition.)

Rachel is now 8, and her charitable organization, Let’s Help Kids, continues to give children the gifts they really want. The organization, which will have its annual fundraiser at 5 p.m. Saturday at Dulles Westin, has provided gifts that total about $15,000 to nearly 400 children in Northern Virginia, her mother, Jen Sterling, said. Rather than give food clothing and shelter, which other nonprofit and government agencies provide, Let’s Help Kids does “the extra, fun stuff,” Sterling said.

To help get the organization started, Sterling, who owns a brand strategy and design business, filled out the necessary paperwork and provided $6,000 to cover the costs of starting and running the group.

“We had to spread the word,” said Rachel, a third-grader at Little River Elementary School. The mother-daughter team, who live in South Riding, attended meetings of Girl Scout troops, church groups and other organizations to raise funds, she said.

Rachel “was very confident,” Sterling said. “She didn’t know she was supposed to be nervous or scared, and was very straightforward with people. She would talk to people about why she wanted to do it, and why it was important, and everybody just sort of sat there looking at her going, ‘You’re how old?’ ”

Sterling said they decided to provide gifts only to children who were referred by schools, social services organization or other third parties, to make sure the requests were legitimate. They usually know only basic information about the children, such as first name, age, gender and what kind of gift the child might like.

Rachel, 8, said picking out the gifts is her favorite part.

“It makes me really happy, because we get to choose, and it feels like it would make the kids really happy if we pick the perfect present,” she said.

Rachel said that she and her mother research possible gifts and that she takes special care when selecting colors, styles and features to appeal to each child. They also wrap the gifts and sometimes deliver them.

“In most cases, we give them back to the third party to provide them to the family, because then the kid’s not embarrassed,” Sterling said. “We don’t want to embarrass any kids at all.”

Gifts have included soccer balls, bicycles and tuition for six weeks of summer camp, Sterling said. The most unusual gift request, Harris said, was the rental of two moon bounces.

Abby Kimble, director of communication and outreach for Reston Interfaith, estimated that Let’s Help Kids has given about 150 gifts to children through her organization, which provides food, shelter and other services for the needy.

“They have done great work for our organization,” she said. “We don’t have a budget for entertainment, for [children] to see a movie, and there’s no budget for Halloween costumes. [Let’s Help Kids] puts together a great catalogue of Halloween costumes and makes it a dignified process, because the kids get to choose the costumes they want.”

“This little girl is the energy behind it,” Kimble said. “She had the idea, and she’s got the desire to find things that will help kids enjoy their day a little more.”

Rachel said some of her classmates have been helping raise money for Let’s Help kids with bake sales and lemonade stands.

“A few boys didn’t want presents for their birthday party,” she said. “They wanted donations for my company.”

Donations have also come in from around the country. Rachel and her mother were especially excited to receive a letter and a check from the author of “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” McCloud had read about Let’s Help Kids online and was thrilled that her book had influenced Rachel to fill buckets of her own, Sterling said.

“We were dancing in the post office” when they opened the letter, she said.

Rachel said that she would like to be a baker and an artist when she grows up but that she also wants to keep working with Let’s Help Kids.

“She has said she wants this to be bigger,” Sterling said. “We are developing a program called Let’s Help Kids Help Kids.”

With the help of teachers in Loudoun, Sterling said, they are developing a curriculum that will take topics such as homelessness, hunger and the environment and put them in language that will help kids understand the issues.

“I think it’s really cool if these kids can get inspired to take a topic that really matters to them and do something about it,” Sterling said.

Information about Let’s Help Kids and Saturday’s gala is at www.letshelpkids.org.