Kids are changing the world. Did you know that five out of every ten children (ages 12 to 18) volunteer their time for a good cause? Each year, they give more than 1.3 billion community service hours to make a difference in the lives of others. Here in the Yellowstone Valley, we decided to highlight a handful of young women who answered their heart’s call.We think they are pretty inspiring and we hope you do too.
Hailey Fenno was sitting in her 4th grade class one day when her teacher at Meadowlark Elementary shared a video that touched her heart profoundly. This then 9-year-old girl watched as the video showcased some of the African people who walked each day without shoes. Their feet were calloused, dirty and blistered.
“One lady had a pair of shoes and she painted them black because a kid has to have a pair of black shoes to be able to go to school. She had to trade a pair for a goat to feed her baby because she couldn’t provide her child milk,” Hailey says.
Hailey’s mom, Christy, remembers vividly her daughter coming home from school that day. “She came home and said, ‘Mom, I need all of your shoes and I want everybody’s shoes from your work too. How do we get as many shoes as we can?'”
That began a mission like nothing Hailey had ever led before. She lobbied everyone close to her to hand over new or gently used shoes to make a difference for those living half way around the world.
Christy smiles at her daughter when answering the question, just how many pairs did this then 4th grader gather up? “A lot of shoes! Probably half of what the school gave. She was the number one gatherer!” At the end of the campaign, the school needed a semi to cart all of the donations away.
But that wasn’t the end of Hailey Fenno’s giving story. At Christmastime, she found out that she’d have a new cousin from the same land she helped clothe. Her aunt and uncle were in the process of adopting an 11-year-old boy from the African Country of Burkina Faso.
Using her iPod, Hailey started to research African orphanages. She saw some of the orphans’ difficult living conditions. That’s when her next mission started to take hold.
“When she started getting pictures of her new cousin and how he lived down there, how poor they are, her heart just sank. All she wanted to do was help those kids,” Christy says.
That’s why for her birthday, instead of presents, Hailey asked for donations to provide gifts and food for some of the orphaned children of the Yako Orphanage in Burkina Faso. She ended up raising $340 just from family and friends. What did that provide? It helped the orphanage purchase six months of meat, soccer balls for the kids, shoes, and school supplies.
Instead of being proud of her efforts, however, Hailey tears up and says, “I could have done so much more.” Her mother quickly stops her and shares, “This is the girl who brings extra gloves in her back pack with extra hats and scarves in case somebody didn’t bring them. This is the girl who will stay after school with those whose parents haven’t picked them up yet so that they won’t be alone.” With tears starting to form in her own eyes, Christy adds, “She is going to do incredible things in life!”
For 17-year-old Sydnie Beiber her years in elementary school were mired in bad memories. During much of it, she felt vulnerable and alone.
“When I was young, my mom went to prison and so I didn’t have her for five years,” Sydnie says. “People picked on me and bullied me because they knew what happened with my mother. I learned to ignore them. I built up a wall around me to take those hits.”
It wasn’t until school counselors stepped in when Sydnie was in third grade that she found strength thanks to her new “Big Sister.” This sister wasn’t a blood relative but a mentor with Laurel High School’s Big Brother, Big Sister program.
“Going through all of the things that girls go through and not being able to have my mom there, this program was there to help me,” Sydnie says. “I really do wonder if I would have gone down the wrong path.”
When Sydnie became a junior at Laurel High this year, she knew it would be her turn to return the favor and give back. She signed up to be a “Big.”
“I wanted to be able to pay it forward,” Sydnie says. “I wanted to be a role model like my ‘Big’ was for me.”
Sydnie’s advisor in the program says she knew her when she was going through that dark time. Karen Ahmann smiles when she thinks of how much this young lady has grown physically and emotionally. “She has so much to offer. Even though it was a tough time, it could have made her bitter or made her better. It made her better.” Karen says passionately that Sydnie Beiber “walks the talk” and she’s excited to see what she’ll do being involved in the Big/Little program. “She will be such a light in some little person’s life. I just believe she will make a lasting relationship with that little person.”
When Sydnie talks about her future, she already knows she would love to get a degree in culinary arts and work as a pastry chef. She’s got her educational future mapped out perfectly. In these high school halls, however, she simply wants to make a difference. She’s excited to come full circle in a program that was a lifeline for her. She says, “I want to help a child choose the right path.”
It was a commercial during one of Karlee Albertson’s favorite TV shows that set her on a life-changing mission. This 8-year-old shares, “It was a Disney Channel commercial and it was telling people that some are more unfortunate than others.”
With an eye-sparkling smile, Karlee says, “I came out of my room and I told my mom and grandma that I wanted to help the poor.” Without skipping a beat, Karlee enlisted the help of her teacher the next day at school. “There was a bazaar coming up at Sandstone Elementary. The school arranged it so that I could work there.”
Armed with several dozen bold and sparkly shades of nail polish, Karlee charged folks at the bazaar just $2 to get their nails painted. Before long, the line was wrapped around the entire vendor space. Karlee smiles and says, “One lady, when the bazaar first opened, came in, wrote a check for $100, dropped it in the basket and left.” She giggles and adds, “That felt really good!”
With her money in hand, Karlee adopted some of the families on the Sandstone Elementary Giving Tree. It was a Christmas tree decked out with tags, sharing the needs of some of her fellow students’ families. “You can pick names off the tree. Inside, it tells you what the people want. So, if they want a coat, it will tell you what size they need.”
At the time of the bazaar, Karlee had already set up a Go Fund Me website. After painting close to one hundred sets of nails, she gathered up roughly $1,300 to go on an all out shopping spree for others. Karlee, her mom Kandis and plenty of volunteer shoppers packed carts with coats, snow pants, books, toys, and even everyday essentials like socks and underwear. The money kept coming in well into January and ended up at more than $1,500.
Through it all, this pint-sized second grader was given much in the way of support. “People kept telling me, ‘Keep going! You’re doing good! And, that was awesome.'” She was recognized personally by the School District 2 Board and got a hand-written letter from the governor, thanking her.
But that is not why Karlee did what she did. She said she was moved to help others during a season that revolves around giving. Karlee’s mom was proud beyond words. “It was great to see what her idea could become. All she did was inspire other people, really. That was all it was, but she inspired a lot of people.”
As Kandis helps her daughter prep for this year’s Giving Tree, she’s grateful for Karlee’s giving heart. She says, “She was nine weeks early and weighed three pounds when she was born. She spent 40 days in the hospital and so I have always known that God had big plans for her. I hope that nothing ever takes that out of her heart.”
Without skipping a beat, the ever-spunky Karlee chimes in, “It’s not. Don’t worry!”
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to donate to Karlee’s Giving Tree, she has a Go Fund Me site at: gofundme.com/karleesgivingtree2014. You can also mark your calendar for a one of a kind manicure. Karlee will be set up again at the Sandstone Elementary Bazaar on November 15th from 10AM to 4PM. In addition to polishing nails, Karlee will also be selling handmade Rainbow Loom bracelets.
Kalli Sizemore has a powerful motto. “There are no limits unless you set them on yourself,” she’ll tell you.
Within the past year and a half, Kalli has thrown caution to the wind and went all out for some of our community’s most vulnerable kids — kids facing debilitating and life threatening illnesses. She went on a mission to raise big bucks for the Montana Chapter of Make A Wish.
If you didn’t know, Make A Wish grants the wishes of children with life threatening medical conditions to enrich their lives with hope, strength and joy. While wishes have been granted in Montana since 1987, it wasn’t until 2011 that the Montana Chapter opened its offices in downtown Billings. Kalli Sizemore wanted to put this non-profit on the Billings map.
“I have a big soft spot for kids,” Kalli says. “They are special and they deserve to be kids. They get robbed of that opportunity with their life threatening and terminal illnesses.”
This then 19-year-old girl went to the State Manager and shared her dream of throwing a party to raise some awareness and, more importantly, funds. That’s how the “Come Be A Kid” event was born.
“We thought it would be good for the adults to come and let loose for a little while,” Kalli says. She decked out the warehouse space at her parent’s company, Lonewolf Energy from top to bottom. “It’s not your typical fundraiser. It’s crazy kid food and crazy kid decorations. We have cupcake towers and cookie buckets and cake pops, deep fried peanut butter and jellies.” She adds, “My goal was to raise $10,000 that first year. That was going to be a big boost for kids in Billings. That was 2-1/2 wishes. My dad told me, ‘You’ve got to go big or go home Kalli. Why don’t you go all out and let people know who is in town now?'” And so, she did just that.
“It went from a small idea of a wine and dine to a giant 220 people party that first year,” she says. Kalli ended up raising $43,000. Last June, she put on her second event and raised just shy of $50,000. What’s amazing is, the $93,000 raised over the course of a year and a half granted roughly 23 wishes. That’s half of all wishes granted during that time in our area.
To say State Manager Stevie Moe was moved would be an understatement. “I’ve actually been blown away by her,” Stevie says. “Her heart lies with kids. That’s clear in everything she does with us.”
At this year’s event, Kalli and her friend dressed up like Minnie and Mickey to grant a Disney trip, right at her event. “That was an incredible feeling. I was bawling. It was so emotional to see the reaction from the child.” The 10-year-old little girl suffers from Blackfan Anemia and requires regular transfusions just to stay alive. Kalli says, “I hope the trip that we granted will make a difference and help her feel ‘I can do this now.’ That’s why I do what I do. I want these kids to have a bright spot in their life that they can look back on.”
Right now Kalli Sizemore is a student teacher and come April, she’ll be a certified Elementary and Special Education teacher. Now 21 and soon to be married, she’s looking forward to one day being at the head of the class and in her words, “Hopefully affecting more lives each and every day.”
Editor’s Note: Right now in Montana 40 children are waiting for their wishes to be granted. If you’d like to help in the effort, visit montana.wish.org to learn more.