Mandi, who was adopted by Dina and Rich Simon at eight days old, is grateful for her “awesome parents.” Realizing how lucky she is, she wants to make the world a better place.
Determined to help under-privileged children, Mandi and others founded Simon Says Give, which has given birthday parties for 500 children the past few years.
This all started when Mandi, at age 5, asked those coming to her birthday party to bring donations for others instead of presents.
For her eighth birthday, she invited her friends to donate items for backpacks, since her birthday was in August.
One day she told her parents she had a plan to help under-privileged kids and the more she talked, it sounded like a business plan. Her mother, who studied business, helped organize her daughter’s vision.
When they brainstormed for a name, “Simon Says Give” was a natural.
Providing birthday parties for those who can’t afford them was the first project.
Working with 21 YMCAs and shelters mainly in the Twin Cities, Mandi and volunteers host birthday parties at the Ys and community centers. As an alternative, the organization can provide birthday boxes financed and even packed by corporations. The box contains a cake or cupcakes, activities and two presents.
The goal is to provide another 500 birthday celebrations this year.
Next, the organization wanted to provide backpacks for youngsters in need.
The call went out, and during the past two years through Simon Says Give’s High-Five for Supplies, volunteers and corporations provided materials for 10,000 backpacks distributed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.
Her mother figures at $100 a backpack, the project with money and in-kind donations figured at a million dollars.
The goal of High-Five for Supplies, with the help of partnerships in other states, is 50,000 backpacks this year.
Last month Mandi went to Washington, D.C., where she began her training as one of 25 GlobeChangers selected by the Jefferson Awards Foundation. The national foundation, founded by Jackie Kennedy, assists and recognizes community volunteers.
As a GlobeChangers nominee, she is challenged to spread her organization to other states and countries.
Last week she went to Denver, where she explained her organization.
Mandi is a sixth-grader at Visitation School in Mendota Heights, where students volunteer for her work.
Her mother is president of the nonprofit organization, which has an impressive board of directors.
You can get involved in volunteering or fundraising and get details on an April 26 fashion show at www.simonsaysgive.org.
This story was first reported in Sun Thisweek Newspapers by Jessica Harper.
Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers. He can be reached through [email protected]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.