"I help others because I CAN!!!"
Inspired by her younger brother, Kaeden, who was born with a heart defect, Kennedy Jet Kulish, 9, of Lancaster, PA, has been running her "Kisses for Kaeden" campaign for the last three years to raise money for children's health organizations. Her tireless efforts have been earned her several awards, including the 2006 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Kennedy: Three years ago my little baby brother was born with a heart defect. Kaeden had three open heart surgeries to correct his special heart all before his first birthday!!! At his first birthday celebration, I started "Kisses for Kaeden" to help other kids who are in need, and I have been helping others since that day through self-initiated fundraisers.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Kennedy: Kisses for Kaeden, Lancaster, PA.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Kennedy: Me and my "kisses" helpers, ages 6 to 13, have lemonade stands, garage sales, bake sales, Chinese auctions, and teddy bear collections. We give all the money we raise from our fundraisers to Make-A-Wish Foundation, Children's Miracle Network, Penn State Children's Hospital, and American Heart Association.
What inspired you to get involved?
Kennedy: My awesome, now healthy, baby brother Kaeden...my hero among heroes!
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Kennedy: I told my mom that I thought we should have the guests who came to Kaeden's first birthday party to bring donations made out to the Childrenís Hospital that fixed Kaedenís special heart so we could help other kids with their hearts instead of getting regular presents. I wrote letters and went to area businesses for donations of food and a hall. Everyone came, and I presented the Childrenís Hospital with a little over $2000 the next day. Then I had a lemonade stand in front of my house a month later and raised $300 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and every month since then, me and my "kisses" friends have different fundraisers to help others with their special needs.
It's been almost three years now. We collect teddy bears so the Lancaster police can give them to scared kids when they are in a car accident. We make care packages for our heroes serving in Iraq. We clean and sort toys for the Boys and Girls Club each Christmas and feed the homeless at St. Phillip's church every Thanksgiving. We clean the parks here in Lancaster every Day of Caring in September, and we even adopted a three-mile stretch of Pennsylvania highway that we clean and keep litter-free four times a year.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Kennedy: When I received $1000 from the Angel Soft Toilet Paper Company for helping others. I went shopping and bought two outfits and two toys for each of the 25 children living here at "MOMS" house for teenage moms and their babies. The director there gave me their ages and sizes, and I wrapped every toy and gift myself, and then me and my mom went to deliver them and they unwrapped them, and they were giggling and smiling. It was so awesome!
What is/was the hardest part?
Kennedy: I play a lot of sports and dance and cheer, and I love school, and that has a lot of homework, so the hardest is not having more time to raise more money and have more fundraisers then once a month.
What was the biggest surprise?
Kennedy: That big people would listen to a kid like me and help me with donations to help me to help others.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Kennedy: I am very fortunate to have a roof over my head, clothing to wear, food to eat, have my mom, dad, and my awesome, spunky, HEALTHY baby brother with me every day to play with. I thought everybody is that blessed, but they are not, and I am the luckiest kid in the whole wide world, and I know that.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Kennedy: Even if youíre a kid, if you are serious about helping others, YOU can!! Itís so much fun and really cool to do, and if people tell you that volunteering isnít cool, then sadly itís because they havenít tried. I help others because I CAN!!!
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