Making a Difference, One Child at a Time
Annie Wignall, 17
Volunteering has always been an important part of my life. My parents taught me at an early age to help others and as long as I can remember my mom, dad, sister, brother and I have always volunteered: doing good deeds for neighbors; raising money for special events; and volunteering at church, school, and in our community. That's why the idea of starting "Care Bags" to help children seemed like a totally normal thing for me to do.
My volunteering began in January 2000, when I was eleven, after I learned from my mom (she's a Child Abuse Prevention Educator) that many kids in crisis situations have to leave their homes without any of their own belongings. Can you imagine not even having your own toothbrush, toothpaste, comb or shampoo? It made me sad to know there are tons of kids out there who are suffering and need our help. I think all kids deserve to have the things they need, so I decided to do something to make their lives better. I put myself in their shoes and came up with the idea to create fabric "Care Bags" and fill them with essential, age-appropriate items to comfort needy kids (babies to 18 years old) during difficult times in their lives. I asked my mom to be my chauffeur (I was too young to drive!), contacted two local children's agencies to see if they'd distribute the Care Bags, recruited volunteers to sew the bags, and met with local businesses to secure donations for the bags' contents. Since I knew I'd never meet the kids myself, I decided I'd attach an age/color-coordinated poem to the outside of each bag to make it easier for the agencies to deliver them and to let the recipients know someone cares about them.
I knew when I started Care Bags that I couldn't help everyone, but I could make a small difference, one Care Bag, one child at a time. My project is now an award-winning nonprofit organization called Care Bags Foundation, complete with its own headquarters where donations are stored and more than 100 Care Bags are filled every month. With help from thousands of volunteers and donors across America, and with hand-delivery by over 80 U.S and international distributing agencies, I've been able to improve the lives of more than 9,000 displaced, abused, and disadvantaged kids worldwide. More than 50 American and international groups from across the globe have been inspired to adopt my idea by beginning similar projects of their own.
My volunteer work has taught me so much. It's helped me to be more thankful for the family and good life I have. I have learned that if a community works together for a good cause, good things are bound to happen. And I've discovered there are a lot of nice grownups and kids out there who want to help—all I had to do was ask! I've made a ton of new friends and have met important people, including former President George H.W. Bush. Best of all, doing this has shown me just how good it feels to help others. I like to make people happy, because that makes me happy too.
I really love kids, so that's what I like to spend my time on. I do something related to Care Bags every day. There are lots of ways you could help kids, too. Maybe you could donate money or collect new items to fill the bags, get your friends together to make and decorate bags or blankets, or start a similar project of your own to help kids in your community. Or why not think BIG and dream up a creative way of your own to brighten someone's life? Perhaps you love art, or reading, or sports, or helping senior citizens. Whatever your passion is, find something you care about, take action, and then volunteering will be fun. I encourage you to use your time, talents and your voice to make the world a better place. You'll be so glad you did!
For more information on Annie and the Care Bags Foundation, visit http://www.carebags4kids.org/
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