Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the close relationships we’ve formed with our Littles came about through volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. As volunteers, ourselves, we can attest to the indelible benefits of supporting our community. Given our interest in giving back, it’s natural to consider exposing your Little Brother or Sister to community service and philanthropy.
Big Sister Stephanie has found ways to connect with her Little Sister, while also supporting their community together. When she was matched with her Little Sister Sammy in 2012, they immediately bonded over their shared interest in volunteering. One of their earlier outings was volunteering with Love in the Mirror by decorating Valentine’s Day cookies for the homeless. “For Sammy,” Stephanie says, “it’s always been something innate for her to help others. I think it’s nice to talk about it and keep it in the forefront of her mind.”
Toward the end of 2016, Stephanie approached Sammy with an opportunity shared by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. Every year, Disney provides grants to children who want to lead and execute a service learning project to help their community. With a natural passion for animal welfare, Sammy gravitated toward supporting Adopt and Shop, a local nonprofit animal rescue she and Stephanie had visited before. Sammy came up with a few ideas, like organizing a drive for pet supplies, and selling cupcakes to raise money for the rescue. “Why not both?” Stephanie suggested. Thus, Sammy’s project, Cupcakes for Canines & Friends, was born!
To kick off their grant application, Stephanie and Sammy had to submit a spreadsheet listing how they would allocate the $500 Disney grant. “So long as you had a vision, the upfront application wasn’t difficult,” Stephanie says. They allocated funds toward cupcake baking supplies, and snacks, water, and t-shirts for the volunteers. “We thought it’d be nice that everyone has the same t-shirt,” Stephanie says, “and we could sell additional t-shirts with a monetary donation to Adopt and Shop.”
A while back, Stephanie had met a fellow Big Brother named John, who just happened to own a print shop in town. John gave them a great rate on the t-shirts, and his graphic artist generously helped Sammy design the posters and shirts. “Sammy came up with the design idea. She knew she wanted a dog holding a cupcake,” Stephanie explains.
Some of the most valuable moments Sammy and Stephanie shared during the project were the “business meetings” they carried out in preparation for the big fundraiser. “It was fun to call it a business meeting and have an agenda,” Stephanie says. “Sammy felt like it was really special. We talked about certain timelines and what had to be done. I’d give her my input, but say it’s her project and her choice.”
Leading up to the event, Stephanie helped Sammy reach out to adults in the community. She helped her draft a press release, keeping all of Sammy’s original grammar and spelling as she had written it. Her plea for fundraiser attendees resulted in a segment on KTLA News, and the mayor and vice mayor of Culver City visited her fundraiser!
Sammy’s press release:
My name is Samantha Rojas, I am 13 and I live in Los Angeles. A couple months ago Disney was doing a service grant in which a person would get $500 to do an activity that would raise money for an organization that helps the world in some way. In order to win this you would need to submit an essay about what you would do with the money and why. My sister (from the big brother & big sister organization) and I thought that it would be fun to participate! Not so long ago I got a dog from Adopt & Shop in Culver City and she has brought a lot of happiness to my family and I, so i wanted to do something for them in exchange! My idea was that people would stop by and donate supplies for dogs and cats. And they would get a cupcake if they donated! We named it Cupcakes For Canines & Friends. My sister and I both thought it was a great idea and, luckily, so did Disney! But it would be a disaster if no one showed up… We need some people to help spread the word, could you help? You should attend the supply drive too! It would mean a lot to me and all the dogs and cats. Hope you can attend!Sammy
On the day of the fundraiser, the question on visitors’ minds was, “Where is the girl from the news!?” People from all over LA came, including a family from the Valley and a South Central police officer, specifically asking to talk to Sammy. Everyone was so moved by her story, they were compelled to visit and contribute to her cause. “The day-of, not to sound overly dramatic, was probably one of the most poignant in her life, from my perspective,” Stephanie recalls.
Sammy’s fundraiser was a smashing success. Contributors raised over $700 and donated more pet supplies than Adopt and Shop could manage! There was also a strong presence from BBBSLA, from matches and employees alike. Bigs and Littles helped bake and set up for the event, and others came out just to show their support. “The manager said that it was the most well-attended fundraising event that they’ve ever had, and the most well-received when it comes to monetary donations and supplies.”
Sammy’s fundraiser not only supported Adopt and Shop’s mission to help animals, but also helped Sammy become more confident and outgoing. “Sammy has, in the past, had issues with anxiety talking with people, especially adults. In the past, I’d say there was a 50/50 chance that she’d reply if I introduced her, even at a safe setting like a BBBSLA event.” As the event kicked off, Sammy was at times reluctant to respond to adults. However, by the end of the event, she came out of her shell completely. “She went right up to the Mayor and asked him, ‘What’s it like to be a mayor?!’ Her mom came up to me after the event and asked me, ‘Who is this girl?’”
The effects of planning and leading the event were far-reaching for Sammy. “I’d be shocked if she didn’t respond when an adult talked to her now.” Stephanie says. “Her confidence level increased so much in one day. I didn’t think that was possible. I’ve never seen that happen, where someone can be affected by one singular event or day. It was really special.”
For Littles who are considering applying for the grant, Stephanie wholeheartedly urges them to do it. “It doesn’t have to be something that solves the world’s problems. Even if it’s a beach cleanup or a tree planting, I think that the biggest takeaway for the Little is getting involved in philanthropy and service, and giving back, and the importance of all of that. It doesn’t have to be this big, huge thing, so long as they understand the importance of giving back and they feel good about it.”
Along with a long-lasting desire to give back to her community, Sammy also walks away from her fundraiser with a stronger sense of self-confidence. “For her, it was so empowering to own this project. I think that’s an amazing thing about the project, is that it gives the child the power,” Stephanie says. “She made the decisions on the date, the timing, what she wanted out of it- everything was ultimately hers.”
As their match progresses, Stephanie and Sammy look forward to hosting more fundraisers. “She was adamant about putting 2017 on the shirts, because she wants this to be an annual thing,” Stephanie explains. “I think it would be amazing to do another event together, not only because of the good it does, but it also does good for her.” Since Sammy is a sophomore next year, Stephanie also wants to talk with her about college prep and Sammy’s plans after high school. As a further-off goal, when Sammy turns 18, Stephanie looks forward to visiting her hometown of Philadelphia with her.
Stephanie recommends that, before diving in to conquer the project tasks, the Big map out with the Little what would be expected of both of them. “For us to do it again, there are things I would put upon Sammy more than I did,” Stephanie says. “The pre-planning is the biggest thing. We omitted that full planning step, and tried to plan along the way.” Stephanie realized afterwards that while it was a great event, having a better laid out plan could’ve helped alleviate some of the stressors she’d experienced on her end.
Leading a fundraiser for Adopt and Shop created extraordinary benefits for Sammy’s community, and her confidence. If you and your Little are interested in developing a Youth Service America project like Sammy did, reach out to your Match Support Specialist for more details. We wish you the best of luck!