Cowles Student Named Volunteer of the Year

Volunteerism has been getting a lot of attention lately. In early September, Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds issued a joint “call to service” aimed at boosting Iowa from #2 to #1 in the nation in volunteerism. Last Saturday, more than 250 volunteers from the school district, United Way and Aviva USA took to the streets in the 4th annual Reach Out to Dropouts.

But one Cowles Montessori student didn’t need to be called to volunteer. Sixth grader Chloe O’Connor received the first ever Volunteer of the Year/Changing Lives Award from Children & Families of Iowa (CFI), presented to her at their annual meeting earlier this month. Chloe earned the honor in recognition of a personal initiative she undertook more than three years ago.

CFI, which has been in existence for 124 years, serves over 21,000 clients all over the state. Their services include programs aimed at domestic violence, teens, foster care, family counseling and therapy, mental health and child care.

In her acceptance speech Chloe said she was honored to be the first ever recipient of the award and feels blessed to be able to give back to her community.

Chloe delivers a “Caring Kit” to CFI every month.  The kits consist of a reading book, DVD, new small plush toy, bubbles, and jokes that are placed in a box.  She makes an individualized handcrafted heart with pieces of fabric tied around a wire shaped like a heart that is then tied to the box with ribbon.

For the last three years she has also asked for everyone attending her birthday party to bring an unopened present for a foster child.  She includes one of these large unopened presents with every Caring Kit so the child can receive a “major gift” for their birthday or a holiday.  She tells the CFI staff what age and gender she wants the kit given to each month and the staff delivers it to one of their child clients.  She has solicited and received donations for this charity from her school, Barnes & Noble and also received a donation of teddy bears from the Make a Wish Foundation.

Chloe intends to continue the project for many years to come.  In May of this year, she was asked to give a speech about her project at a TedX Youth Des Moines event held at the Des Moines Playhouse.   She said that even though she never meets any of the children that receive her gifts, it doesn’t matter because she knows that her gift will likely “brighten someone’s day” and that’s enough for her.

When Iowa takes the top spot in volunteerism from Utah, it will be thanks to people like Chloe O’Connor.

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