These Eastside kids have outgrown the lemonade stand and now are giving charitable adults a run for their money.
Kids always are eager to get their hands on a few bucks. Some savvy kid investors will squirrel that money — be it a $20 bill that was tucked inside a birthday card, a meager allowance for household chores, or the well-deserved cash prize that accompanies a first-place contest entry — away in piggy banks to save for a coveted item, while others are eager to frivolously blow their cash. A thoughtful few may even buy a gift for a friend or family member. There’s also a surprising number of children who give at least some of their money to charity.
Studies have shown that kids are most charitable in their early years, and those who see their parents giving back, volunteering, and helping others in need are far more likely to develop life-long giving habits. Even if they aren’t old enough for an allowance and all they are able to give is a jar of pennies, the experience of giving will likely not fade from their minds.
While kids from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds tend to give to charity, children from households that earn more than $72,000 a year — like many of those on the Eastside — are the most likely to give.
Similarly, children who have endured a hardship are more likely to help other children who have faced similar circumstances. This was the case for Katerina Tiscornia, 18, who in 2013 was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer known as Ewing Sarcoma.
Then an eighth-grader, Tiscornia found herself being ushered back and forth from her home on Mercer Island to Seattle Children’s Hospital on a near-constant basis as she began her chemotherapy treatments. She also found herself asking why cancer had happened to her.
“I felt that I hadn’t done anything wrong: I never smoked, I ate healthy food, and I exercised,” she said. “Ultimately, after thinking about it, I realized cancer had to happen to me for a reason; there was no other way that it made any sense.”
Tiscornia turned to her doctors and caregivers at the hospital to find a way to bring about positive change, for herself and others. She was shocked to learn that only 4 percent of U.S. federal cancer funding is solely dedicated to childhood cancer research.
Ultimately, Tiscornia decided to raise funds to help her doctor, Douglas S. Hawkins, continue his research into improving cure rates and treatments, while reducing the long-term effects from Ewing Sarcoma. Seattle Children’s stepped up to help facilitate the fundraising.
“I was a 14-year-old girl lying in a hospital bed asking if I could raise money, and they were more than happy to establish a web page and help me get started with the fundraising,” Tiscornia said.
The page was titled “Kat’s Crew,” after Tiscornia’s pet name for her band of supporters, her friends and her family. It took a while for the page to gain momentum, but her planning of sponsored events like Paddle the Channel — an annual event organized by Tiscornia and her family where participants use various watercraft to paddle across Lake Washington from the East Channel and back — from her bed at Seattle Children’s quickly helped get fundraising efforts off the ground.
Today, Tiscornia is a senior at Mercer Island High School, and on track to graduate this spring. She walks with a slight limp — from the surgery that replaced the tumorous part of her hip bone with titanium — but she has been in remission for more than two years. In that time she has raised more than $500,000 for childhood cancer research, with no signs of stopping.
Cancer changed Tiscornia’s life in countless ways, but she said the greatest thing to come of her battle was her newfound confidence born from speaking for other children at Seattle Children’s who could not speak for themselves.
“I was terrified of speaking in front of people, going up in front of the class just to give a three- to five-minute presentation, I would be sweating and so nervous that I could barely talk,” she said of her previous forays into public speaking. She doesn’t feel that way any longer.
It wasn’t until her eighth-grade graduation that Tiscornia finally caught her stride, when she was approached by her principal and asked to join a few other students to discuss their middle-school experience in front of the entire school. Excited, yet nervous, she stood at the podium:
“During middle school I learned that I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t define me.”
After a pregnant pause, one person began clapping, then the rest of the audience joined in.
“It was in that magical moment that I was able to take a deep breath and kind of really enjoy the moment, and I realized I do like public speaking,” Tiscornia said. “That was really where I found that I have a voice that people actually want to listen to what I am saying.”
Tiscornia isn’t the first charitable kid to come out of Seattle Children’s. Other patients or former patients have given back, too.
Two examples include Suhail Singh, 18, who started the Kare4Kids Guild to support neurological diseases after he was treated for a cyst in his brain, and Michael Albrecht, 14, who partnered with Etsy shop Snap & Ties Clothing to create a Seahawks-themed clothing line — with shirts that proclaim “Tackled Cancer” and “Blue Friday Brave” — to raise money for Seattle Children’s and Strong Against Cancer while, like Tiscornia, undergoing treatment for Ewing Sarcoma.
Chirag Vedullapalli, 15, also has given generously to Seattle Children’s throughout his life, but he has never been a long-time resident of the hospital, rather he just has a passion for charity and creating art.
This young philanthropist started the Eastside’s Creative Children for Charity — or 3C, as he likes to call it — when he was 8 years old. His mission was to support nonprofits by uniting kids through community art and leadership programs. The group endeavors to inspire 1 million kids and teens to donate their time and talents for social causes through creativity.
“We are all good at different things; we should be able to leverage our unique talents to help the community and invest in the community,” Vedullapalli said. “I feel like if we are enjoying what we are doing at the same time it is helping the people around us, it is the best win-win situation that we can all have a good time with.”
To date, 3C has donated more than $10,000 to various organizations, from well-known national nonprofits like Make-A-Wish, to local causes like the Sammamish-based SAMMI Awards Foundation. Moreover, Vedullapalli has personally raised and donated more than $20,000 by selling his art — mostly acrylics on canvas — and teaching 3D-printing classes to other youth.
Vedullapalli’s home is practically a museum dedicated to his artwork, each wall adorned with a brightly colored canvas with subjects ranging from light-hearted African animals, to more serious social issues like hunger affecting every race. To gaze upon the shrine his parents have built for him, you’d never know Vedullapalli’s family wanted him to be an athlete.
“They took me to a (basketball) court when I was 5, and I ran to the corner and cried because I couldn’t stand the sound of the dribbling basketballs,” Vedullapalli said of his first basketball lesson.
Athletes themselves, Vedullapalli’s parents didn’t know what to do when faced with their son’s aversion to their favorite sport, so they turned to a friend, who suggested art. The 5-year-old took to painting so quickly that his parents found him mentors to help hone his skills. As Vedullapalli grew, he started producing more and more artwork.
“When people came over to our house, they asked if they could buy them, so I sold them,” he said. “It was great getting money for my work, but my parents taught me it is not all about keeping the money for myself but about helping people in need through your talent.”
It was under the guidance of local artist and mentor Miska Salemann that Vedullapalli hosted his first charity painting fundraiser, Holiday Hearts, in 2005.
“We invited friends to join us and raised $500 for Seattle Children’s Hospital,” he said. “That was when I realized there was a greater opportunity for us to come together to create experiences to create a social cause. That was my first ‘aha’ moment; it felt good, I mean it felt amazing.”
Over the past several years, Vedullapalli has hosted 3C fundraising events throughout the Eastside with and without the help of Salemann. He organized an attempt to create a Guinness World Record for the most people to participate in a painting-by-numbers. He spearheaded a book entitled 40 Stories, inspired by the Search Institute’s 40 development assets, which brought together more than 50 Eastside kids to write and illustrate a book that strives to help young people become healthier and more caring citizens.
As if this were not enough, Vedullapalli is keeping his head down to get through school and other teenage rigors, like his impending driver’s license test. Moreover, he is dedicated to connecting 3C with bigger area charities — like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — as well as preparing 5,000 kids for the workforce through 3D-printing education before he graduates high school.
Annika Schiller, 14, like Vedullapalli, was also inspired by a family legacy of charity, dating back to her paternal grandmother.
“My mom would invite homeless people over to the house for family dinner and (invite them to) sleep in the basement,” said Christian Schiller, Annika’s father. “We did a lot of first-hand charity as opposed to just giving money; that’s the main thing I learned growing up that I am trying to teach to (my kids) is don’t just give money but really give your time, and you get a lot more out of that.”
Schiller’s father took the charitable model he received from his mother and ran with it, creating the Chicago-based One-on-One Foundation before moving to the Pacific Northwest and folding his foundation into Seattle nonprofit Wellspring Family Services, where he has served on the board of directors for the last seven years.
“There was a sweet little girl who raised $1,000 in coins and donated it (as part of the Kids Helping Kids program),” he said. “That gave me the idea to bring home these coin jars for our kids, and that was what really started them into Wellspring.”
Among her siblings, Schiller showed the most enthusiasm in collecting change to fill her jar.
“I would just find spare change around the house, and my dad would let us use any spare change that he had left over,” Schiller said of her first philanthropic endeavor.
It wasn’t long before Schiller outgrew the penny jar and moved on to loftier goals.
“When I was 10, my mom told me this story about a girl named Rachel who was 9 years old and she got killed in a car crash,” Schiller recalled. The story her mother told her of Rachel Beckwith, who in 2011 had set a goal of raising $300 at her 9th birthday party for Charity: Water, fell $80 short of her goal and soon thereafter was killed in a chain-reaction crash on Interstate 90 in Bellevue.
“That story was really interesting to me and made me want to raise money,” Schiller said. “It was in our area, and I just felt connected because we were kind of close in age at the time.”
Schiller wasn’t the only one who was moved by Beckwith’s story. Nearly 32,000 donations were received by Charity: Water in Beckwith’s name, totaling over $1 million (including the $300 raised by Schiller). The money was used to provide clean drinking water to more than 37,700 people in Tigray, Ethiopia.
Today, Charity: Water is one of Schiller’s favorite charities, and she continues to give back when she can via bake sales and babysitting, but she also practices her family’s ethos by not just giving back monetarily, but with her time, as well.
These days, the Mercer Island High School student often can be found volunteering at Wellspring’s Baby Boutique in Seattle, which helps families struggling with homelessness by providing free childcare items like diapers, formula, books, toys, and clothing. Additionally, Schiller enjoys volunteering at assisted living facilities and chatting with dementia patients, whom she said reminds her of her grandfather in Minnesota.
“I (volunteer) every Wednesday, I get to talk to the residents and they always look really happy to see me and ask how my day is going,” she said. “I just get to hang out with the residents and socialize with them; it’s super fun and it opened me up to a lot of volunteer experiences.”
Schiller said she has no idea what she wants to do after high school but she is certain she wants to continue with her charity work and volunteerism and hopes to instill the same values in her own children. That evokes a smile from her dad.
“The main reason we (encourage our kids to give back) is because, you know, Mercer Island (and) Bellevue, kids here are pretty privileged. We want to make sure that they really stay rooted in a lot of the other issues that people have out there,” the proud dad said.