Rachel Madison Harris is our youngest philanthropist. We sat down and talked shop with little Rachel and her mom, Jen Sterling.
Tell us about yourself.
RH: My name is Rachel Madison Harris and I am 7 years old and I just finished first grade. I live with my mommy in Virginia. I have a guinea pig named Lucky.
Tell us a little about Let’s Help Kids. When did you start it? How much have you raised so far?
RH: We started it when I was in kindergarten. I did a project in class about my dreams. Mine was to be a big boss like mommy and daddy and have my own company. I wanted to give toys to kids whose parents can’t afford them. I want kids to be happy.
JS: We have raised about $7500 since we began 18 months ago. To date we have provided gifts to 68 kids and also provided scholarships for 66 weeks of summer camp (11 scholarships for six full weeks of summer camp) for disadvantaged and at-risk kids. We will be doing a small fundraising event in October, and then our Gala will be in March or April of next year.
How do you choose who gets help?
RH: We find out about kids who need help from a grownup who knows them. Not their parents, but a teacher or a case worker. We help kids from kindergarten to sixth grade whose families are having money problems.
JS: We require an advocate to avoid direct requests where true need cannot be confirmed. We also tend to provide the gifts back via the advocate so the kids and their families are not embarrassed by having to receive the gifts directly from strangers. We do not do this to get the thanks from the recipient but rather to make them happy. And hopefully they will pay it forward some day!
We currently serve kids in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties. We would like to expand to Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and other areas (and are currently working with someone to set up a branch in Buffalo, New York!) but we need to find advocates and volunteers who can work with us and “own” those other regions.
It’s extraordinary that at your young age, you are so conscious of other kid’s needs. Were you always so giving?
RH: When I was little I got things from my mom and dad. My mom would tell me that other kids don’t have the same things as me. I thought that was sad and wanted to help them to have toys, too. Their mommy and daddy don’t have enough money to buy things except for clothes and food. I bet the parents are sad that they can’t give their kids toys, too.
What are your plans for the future? What do you want to be when you grow up?
RH: I don’t know yet. Sometimes I want to be a librarian or a teacher, and other times I want to be an astronaut or a famous person. And sometimes I just want to be myself.
JS: It is very important to me that Rachel grows up knowing that she can create her own opportunities. I am an entrepreneur and I want to teach her that she can be and do anything she can dream up. Why take a job when you can grow your own company?
With school and your work in philanthropy, how do you find the time to have fun?
RH: Mom really helps me do the work. I can’t drive or buy stuff by myself yet. So I help pick it out and I drive with her to deliver them. And isn’t helping other people fun anyway?
Let’s Help Kids holds an annual gala and fundraiser. Tell us a little about last year’s, and what you are planning for next year’s gala.
RH: It was SO much fun! Everyone got dressed up and we had a party. At the end, all of the kids tied hundreds of balloons to me to see if they could make me float. It didn’t work… but maybe next year. We made lots of money from everyone coming and we were able to help lots of kids with that money.
JS: We held our first annual “dual gala” in January of 2011. It had the traditional silent auction and dinner seen at most fundraising galas. But that is where the similarities ended. No boring speeches, just fun so that everyone could feel like kids again.
We had two rooms, one for the grownups and one for kids − thus the “dual” in the name. When you have an organization about making kids happy, you can’t leave them at home with a sitter to miss all the fun. Each room had a dinner buffet and an ice cream sundae bar. Each had its own DJ and dance floor. The grownups’ side had over 1,000 balloons lining the ceiling, a bar and a photo booth that could hold up to 10 people at a time and be visited as many times as you wanted. The kids’ side had a balloon animal artist and Wii video games projected on a large wall. There was also a fully-equipped video game van that the kids took turns visiting in groups of 10. And about 30 minutes before the end, we held a balloon drop in the kids room, and the balloons had little prizes and candy in them.
I was most proud of the fact that many adults told me they and their spouses normally hated attending these functions but that ours was super fun and they couldn’t wait to come back again next year.
Is it better to give than to receive?
RH: To give, absolutely. Because giving makes me feel happy. By giving to someone else, I am helping to fill their buckets. And that fills my bucket too.
JS: The bucket concept came from a book by Carol McCloud called Have You Filled a Bucket Today? It talks about how everyone carries an invisible bucket around. Doing and saying nice things to other people fills their and your buckets with good stuff. Doing or saying mean things takes stuff out of your buckets.