“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Nothing exemplifies this statement better than many of Massachusetts’ own local nonprofit organizations. From helping those affected by Alzheimer’s disease to nourishing children, our neighbors are reaching out to make a difference both regionally and across the globe. After giving these organizations a closer look, you may want to join them!

Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz

It’s safe to say Kylee McCumber isn’t your average 13-year-old. The Leominster student has been making strides to end childhood hunger since she was just 10 years old.

McCumber recalls noticing many of her peers eating breakfast at school before classes started and quickly learned it was because food wasn’t available to them at home. That was all she needed to know before jumping into action. Her Kare Kits are a weekly supply of food offered to each child in the program every Friday. The kits typically include items like cereal, juice, fruit cups, peanut butter crackers and other kid-friendly foods to sustain them throughout the week.

McCumber got her program off the ground by starting with a yard sale in the summer. “I had some of my old belongings and stuff from when I was younger and we sold everything for a dollar. We raised $1,100 to go toward helping the first group of kids,” she says. Back then McCumber was helping eight children weekly; today she helps 204 kids.

“Ever since I was little my grandmother has taught me it’s better to give than to receive and now, working with all of the families, I have fully embraced that,” she says. “You never know what tomorrow will bring.”

And that sentiment certainly rings true for McCumber on a personal level after she found herself being whisked off to India last year as part of Unilever’s Project Sunlight campaign, spotlighting young people who are making a difference in the world. Not only did she appear in the heart-tugging and empowering television commercial, but she also talked about her impressive work on The Queen Latifah Show. Kylee’s Kare Kits for Kidz accepts both monetary and food donations. To find out how you can help, visit kyleeskarekitsforkidz.org.

Puzzles To Remember

Caring for family members and friends with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is heartbreaking, frustrating and can leave everyone feeling a bit helpless. Since 2008, Puzzles To Remember is trying to change the quality of life for these families by distributing jigsaw puzzles to facilities that care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

“From the age of 6 to the age of 10, I was a caregiver to my great grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease. She lived with my family up until a few months before her death when I was 10,” says Max Wallack, the organization’s founder. “Upon visiting her in nursing facilities during her last few months, I noticed that patients working on puzzles seemed calmer. After Great Gram’s death, I decided to collect jigsaw puzzles and donate them to the facilities that had helped care for her. From there, Puzzles To Remember just grew and grew.”

Two years later, Wallack formed a 501(c)(3) organization to donate puzzles internationally. To date, Puzzles To Remember has donated more than 38,000 puzzles to more than 2,600 facilities. Wallack is also helping to fill a gap in the quality of puzzles for patients. “Early on, I noticed that there was a dearth of puzzles suited to the needs of Alzheimer’s patients, so I contacted Springbok Puzzles and together we produced a line of puzzles that are low piece count, large piece size and have colorful, memory-provoking images,” he says. “These became the Springbok Puzzles To Remember.”

Wallack, a Boston University neuroscience major, has volunteered at the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center and worked as a research intern in the Molecular Psychiatry in Aging Lab in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. He also penned the book Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? An Explanation of Alzheimer’s Disease for Children (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013) to help kids understand and cope with the disease’s effect on their family members. For more information, visit puzzlestoremember.org.

Harvard Pilgrim’s Growing Up Healthy Campaign

According to the folks at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, they don’t just want to keep you healthy – they want to make getting healthy fun. That’s the purpose of their Growing Up Healthy campaign, which started in 2007 and has since become an invaluable community resource.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, which is why Growing Up Healthy was launched. Through a funding initiative, its goal is to reduce childhood obesity among kids aged 6 through 12 living in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The campaign has invested more than $5 million toward promoting change, including reaching out to more than 130,000 area children about healthy living. It also includes a grant program that benefits two organizations: Healthy Kids Out of School and Let’s Go! Healthcare. Through a similar grant, funding has been provided for healthy cooking classes for kids at local Boys & Girls Clubs of America, while employee service days have produced playscapes, gardens and improved the conditions of hiking trails to help kids and families have more fun out of doors. Visit harvardpilgrim.org and click on Foundation to learn more about Growing Up Healthy.

A Fresh Start

Do you ever take for granted how great you feel after a daily shower? A Fresh Start (formerly the Soap and Towel Campaign), originally founded in 2007 by Jazna Stannard in association with her Hanover high school, wants to bring that sense of cleanliness and pride to the 3.5 million who may experience homelessness every year.

What began as a toiletry drive to provide much-needed personal care products to the local homeless community has developed into a full-fledged movement, with more than 3,600 volunteers participating annually. A Fresh Start has grown from providing donations to the Father Bill’s and MainSpring homeless shelters to offering aid to facilities on a national scale. Partnering with co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, A Fresh Start found support from established chapters at more than 45 universities throughout the country.

“A Fresh Start is dedicated to helping the homeless through hygiene, clothing, professional development, and teaching of personal financial stability,” Stannard says of her nonprofit’s new focus. “Anyone can make a difference and anyone can help whether they are donating physical goods like toiletries or their time.”

Volunteer opportunities are available and welcome. If you’d like to start a chapter at your school or become a chapter adviser, you’ll find information at soapandtowelcampaign.org.

Reach Out and Read

You don’t have to go far to give your child endless possibilities – just open a book!

Reach Out and Read began in 1989, in what was then called Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center). The organization was started by a group of pediatricians and early childhood educators who understood the importance of promoting literacy. While that first program – 25 years ago – distributed an impressive 1,000 books, this pales in comparison to where Reach Out and Read stands today. Across the United States, 5,000 programs have distributed a whopping 6.5 million books.

The program trains and offers support to medical providers who give books to children while educating caregivers about the importance of reading aloud. While Reach Out and Read has a focus on low-income families, other initiatives target other groups, such as the children of parents serving in the military, Native American families and Spanish-speaking families.

To find a local program or learn about ways to support the organization, visit reachoutandread.org.

Starting Your Own  Service Project

If these stories inspire you to want to start your own service project or nonprofit organization, here are a few tips:

• Find your focus. Choose something you are passionate about. “Begin the project in a very small, limited manner and let it grow from there,” says Wallack. “I believe that no one is too young, too old, too poor or too disadvantaged to make a very positive difference in the life of another person.”

• Reach out. Talk to leaders and volunteers at other service organizations in your community. Is there a way you can work together for the common good? One person can make a difference, but there is power in numbers. Shared knowledge and experience can make your project a powerhouse.

• Be business-minded. If your organization grows, make sure you consult a tax professional about how to obtain a 501(c) status, which labels your group as a tax-exempt nonprofit. Your organization will still have to file paperwork each year and may have to pay some taxes, but it’s an important designation to acquire, particularly if you’re fundraising or accepting donations. 

• Don’t get discouraged. Naysayers may try to tell you your idea or project is impossible, notes Kylee McCumber, but she encourages anyone who wants to make a difference to stay the course. Surround yourself with like-minded people and get to work.

Kelly Bryant is a freelance writer and mother of two boys.
Does your child have an idea that will benefit others? Aaron’s Presents offers grants to children ages 8 to 14 years old. For more information or for details on how to apply click here.