By Alexandra Yearly
Third-grader Rees Pillik didn’t get any presents when he turned 8 on June 7.
He said it was his best birthday ever.
The Bordentown City resident used his birthday celebration as a way to support a cause through Glitter Lemonade, a nonprofit organization that introduces the concept of philanthropy to children. His campaign was simple: to raise money for a new playground at the Clara Barton Elementary School, which currently features a blacktop play area and little shade and activities for kids.
“It felt good because I was still making a difference in people’s lives by putting different things on this playground and making people have more fun,” Rees said.
Rees’ playground fund began when he decided that in lieu of accepting presents for his birthday, he would ask the friends and family celebrating with him to instead make a donation to the new playground. He asked them to purchase a T-shirt he designed, which features the message “eat, play, sleep.” He’s also been selling the shirts for $20 to classmates, friends and community members.
Rees and his mother, Melissa Pillik, were even invited to sell the shirts at the Bordentown Farmers’ Market. They sold out of shirts their first night in June, and plan to keep making and selling more for the rest of the summer.
Melissa Pillik, the Director of Mission Advancement for Glitter Lemonade, has already been active with the PTO to encourage fundraising for the playground. About $20,000 had already been collected, and Rees’ campaign efforts have so far contributed more than $500 to the mission.
Pillik said the hope is to keep raising money to redesign the playground with more fun activities for kids.
Glitter Lemonade was founded by Princeton Junction resident Halle Madia in 2010 as a kid-friendly way of getting involved in philanthropy.
In fact, the name of the organization was inspired by Madia’s daughter, Ruby. Madia had been looking for ways to teach her daughters how to give back to the community instead of signing up for yet another activity. That year, instead of sending her daughters to an art class, Madia decided to teach them the “art” of giving. She asked Ruby what she would miss most from not taking the class. Her answer was “playing with glitter.”
Campaigns have included raising money for Charity Water, FEED International and HomeFront. Several children “donated” their birthdays to the Charity Water cause and raised $5,000, enough money to sponsor a freshwater well for the next 20 years. The well provides clean, safe drinking water for a village of 250 people in India.
Madia and Pillik, who run Glitter Lemonade together, post videos about different causes on the website to help kids understand the situation and how their actions can help.
“They watch the video. It’s so easy,” Madia said. “This day and age, you can really just see it and understand it, and be moved to action.”
It was an online video about Charity Water that encouraged Pillik’s children to conserve water.
“They turn off the water every time,” Pillik said. “They got their own motivation, they didn’t need me to remind them.”
Donating a child’s birthday isn’t the only way to contribute to a cause. Other projects have included children’s “Style Your Sole” parties, where guests are encouraged to purchase their own pairs of TOMS shoes. For every pair of TOMS purchased, a pair is donated to a child in need.
“Every event just gets our network out a little bit further,” Pillik said. “We’re just touching people in a way that sparks a new campaign and that takes it one little level deeper, so it’s been very successful in that way.”
As Madia and Pillik continute to grow Glitter Lemonade, they try to time campaigns in ways that resonate most with the children.
“Melissa and I are trying to keep a calendar of events, so when things would happen in our children’s lives, we want to try to open their eyes to how other people may be experiencing or not experiencing the same thing,” Madia said.
When the women prepared to send their children to summer camp, they talked about how some children can’t afford to go to camp. The result was another fundraiser that afforded children the opportunity to attend summer camp at Grand Street Settlement in New York City.
Of course, some projects still refer back to the organization’s roots.
“Glitter Lemonade is founded on the principle that a child’s first fundraising ability typically is a lemonade stand. Almost like their first entrepreneurial experience,” Pillik said.
Since Rees and Pillik couldn’t sell lemonade along with the T-shirts at the farmers’ market, they used it to support another cause. At dismissal during the last week of school, Rees, Pillik and other volunteers sold lemonade and baked goods in the Clara Barton School playground to raise money for the family of a kindergartener whose mother had died. In two days at the lemonade stand, the group raised $200 for the family.
For more information about Glitter Lemonade or to donate to Rees’ playground campaign, go online to glitterlemonade.com.