Galen Irving-Sachs was just 4 years old when he saw a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals poster inviting people to join in a walk to help raise money for animals.
Although he was young, he knew instantly that he wanted to be a part of the event sponsored by the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, a private nonprofit organization established in 1920 to protect animals from cruelty and neglect. So, with his parents' guidance, Galen signed on to participate in the SPCA's annual walk, which raises money to help homeless animals.
Years later, Galen, 12, is still walking and raising money. This year he collected more than $13,000 from businesses, family members and friends. He said it was the least he could do to help a cause and a population that is too often neglected.
"I really enjoy it because I know somewhere some dog or cat might have a new home," said Galen.
A seventh-grader at the Key School in Annapolis, Galen raised the large sum of money the old-fashioned way: by asking for donations. He made telephone calls to friends and strangers alike. He walked neighborhoods, knocked on doors and explained why he was asking for contributions. To raise "big money," he headed to downtown Annapolis, where he asked businesses to chip in.
When the fundraising began to conflict with his schoolwork, Galen sacrificed his recess and spent that time period on his homework. He gave up time with his friends, outings to the movies and playtime after dinner to work on his SPCA campaign.
For four months, he continued to make phone calls and walk neighborhoods with his father, pleading his case and hoping that people he met would take him seriously. Many of them did.
Although he accompanied his son, Joel Sachs, 50, said Galen did all the talking.
"I just carry the bag," laughed Sachs, of Annapolis.
The fundraising was gratifying, Galen said. So were the lessons he learned along the way, such as the importance of teamwork and recognizing unexpected opportunities.
Galen also learned to become more confident when speaking to others. That skill came in handy last year when he approached actor John Travolta,who was filming the movie "Ladder 49" in Annapolis.
The fundraising, said Galen, also taught him how to be creative in devising different ways to solicit contributions. This year, for example, Galen created a stamp that read, "We Were Here, Sorry You're Not, Please Help!" for the fundraising fliers left in the mailboxes of residents who did not answer their doors. Galen also established a "Phone-a-Thon" and recruited five people to help him call contributors who had agreed to help his cause but had not yet sent in their checks.
"This is a very ambitious young man," said Linda Mann, a family friend and businesswoman. "When he sets his mind to something, he really does it."
Mann said Galen has walked her two dogs, Spankie and Allie, in SPCA's Walk for the Animals for the past eight years.
In addition to his fundraising, Galen also went to his own piggybank to help the SPCA out. He contributed $52 to the cause. When an anonymous donor heard that Galen had donated his own money, the donor went to the SPCA shelter on Bay Ridge Avenue in Annapolis and gave workers there a check for $520. A shelter worker recounted that the donor, when writing the check, said: "If [Galen] can give a dollar a week out of his money, I can give ten."
Susan Beatty, executive director of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, praised Galen's fundraising efforts. "He is an amazing young boy," said Beatty. "He's not afraid to ask for anything."