But if he did read those notes, he would’ve seen that, this year, one came from a girl who signs her name with a smiley face and is no longer worried about how she will pay for chorus.
He would’ve seen that a high school student who received a donation toward prom costs wrote: “I had it really hard this year and you helped me a lot. You helped me and my mother save a lot of money we didn’t really have. So thank you so much.”
He would’ve seen that a student whose graduation fees were covered would be allowed to walk across the stage to get a diploma. “I’m very appreciative!” that student wrote.
In truth, the school-age children who get help from Alice’s Kids — the Virginia-based organization that Fitzsimmons named in honor of his mother — aren’t supposed to know they are receiving donations. The organization is set up in a way that encourages social workers and teachers to flag needs, and for parents or other adults in those children’s lives to receive electronic gift certificates that allow them to take credit for meeting those needs.
Those handwritten notes arrive only when those young people, for whatever reason, find out from where that money really came: Alice’s Kids and, if we want to follow those funds back even further, you.
When I first told you about Alice’s Kids in February, I did so with the goal of illustrating what child poverty in this country looks like on an individual, just-trying-to-get-through-the-day level. Since then, the organization has changed in dramatic ways, in large part because so many of you have donated to it.
This year, the organization has been able to help three times as many children as it did last year, and it has assisted them in places across the country where it once had no reach. Fitzsimmons says the organization gave about $50,000 to children last year. This year, it has distributed more than $160,000. Next year, he expects that number to rise even more.
Just last week, he says, the organization received a $50,000 donation from someone who read about Alice’s Kids here.
The request I most often hear in emails from readers is this: Please keep us updated on what happens. Sometimes that’s possible through social media or through a follow-up column. But often there are so many developments happening across so many lives that it’s hard for even me to keep track.
Even harder is capturing all the quiet but significant roles readers play in those developments.
This year, you impacted people’s lives in big and small ways.
One of you asked for the Christmas wish lists written by the children who attend the Amala Lives aftercare program, which is located in the middle of a public housing complex. On those lists were items that not even Santa could produce. One child asked for a “new house.” Another requested: “my daddy back.”
Brandi Forte, who runs the program, says you and your “elves” showed up one day with bags filled with other wishes those children had scribbled on those sheets of paper: new clothes, Barbie dolls, art sets, jewelry, Legos and Hot Wheels.
Others among you read about Jack Guercio’s love of law enforcement badges and patches and decided to add to his collection. For months, the custodian for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has been receiving patches and badges from across the country and world.
“Barely a day goes by that we don’t have a new patch for him,” Kyle Andersen, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, wrote to me in an email. He said after each new one arrives, Guercio usually shows it to everyone at headquarters. He then takes the time to sign a thank-you letter that is sent along with a patch from the sheriff’s office.
“The kindness people from around the world has shown him is remarkable and has excited him immensely,” Anderson said. “However, as Jack likes to remind us, he’s still waiting on that gold NYPD detective’s badge!”
Alfred Forgwe said he can’t begin to thank — or count — the strangers who helped his family after they learned what happened to the young man he adopted as a teenager, Lekelefac Fonge. The 27-year-old home-health aide was shot and killed in October along with his client, Devon Miler, a 24-year-old man with autism.
Forgwe said so many people attended Fonge’s service in College Park, Md., that 700 seats were filled and he believes 1,000 more people might have been left standing inside and outside the building. Some, like Fonge, were from Cameroon. But many, he said, were Americans.
“People said they have never seen such a crowd,” Forgwe said.
A GoFundMe created in Fonge’s name also surpassed its goal and raised more than $32,000, enough to send his body home to his mother in Cameroon. Forgwe said the extra funds allowed Fonge to give her in death what he dreamed of giving her in life: a good home there.
I reached out to Fitzsimmons on the day his mother, Alice, would have turned 95.
He said she tried her best to take care of his sister and him after their father left and that he feels “proud to be carrying on her legacy by helping so many other children who just want to feel a little ‘normal’ amongst their peers.”
At the beginning of the year, he was running Alice’s Kids out of his home office in Alexandria with the help of a small staff of volunteers. Now, the organization has an accountant, an administrative assistant and dozens of volunteers. It has also grown its social media presence and soon, Fitzsimmons says, cartoonist Adrienne Hedger plans to regularly feature some of the organization’s work.
A look at the requests it has fulfilled this year alone shows she will have plenty of material from which to choose.
Alice’s Kids helped pay for special glasses that allowed a boy to see color, a bra fitting for a girl whose mother died and a birthday party in Maryland for a 5-year-old boy whose mother gave birth to him while in jail and was finally free to celebrate with him for the first time.
The organization also helped a teenager with autism buy shoes after his teacher sent a request that read: “It was rainy here recently and his sneakers have holes in them. He told me, ‘I don’t want wet feet anymore.’ ”
Many of those requests can be found on the organization’s social media pages. Also there, sprinkled among the posts, are those handwritten notes that Fitzsimmons doesn’t read.
If he did, he would have seen one from a boy named Henry addressed to “very kind people.”
“First of all, thank you very much for the donation,” the boy wrote. “That helped us a lot and well, I just don’t know what to say. I’m happy and I hope you understand what you are reading because I don’t speak English. Well, just thank you and I’m glad that there are people like you who help others.”
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