Cailey Karshmer, 16, of Cherry Hills Village sorts through school supplies for the annual backpack drive of Colorado Kids for Kids. The Cherry Creek High School student, who founded the nonprofit organization when she was 10 years old, is in Philadelphia this week to receive the Young Heroes Award from the National Liberty Museum. Courtesy of Cailey Karshmer
BY PETER JONES
It has been a decade since 16-year-old Cailey Karshmer has accepted a birthday gift from one of her friends—though it has not been for a lack of friends or presents.
Remember Soccer Barbie? Karshmer still does.
“I love to play soccer and I was so sad because those are so cool,” she said of a sport-themed doll she reluctantly re-gifted at age 6. “I was like, ‘I have to donate this to the homeless shelter.’ It made me really happy that I knew I was giving kids something that I would really want.”
Since then, the Cherry Hills Village teen has not only donated nearly every birthday gift with her name on it to a homeless child, she has gotten increasingly organized about it—in fact, she founded a nonprofit organization to take her penchant for giving to the next level.
“We told all our friends and they told some of their friends, and that’s how we got the word out,” she said of her growing Colorado Kids for Kids organization.
As the name implies, the group is a kid-driven conduit for more fortunate young people to directly help those who are less so, not just through toy donations, but clothing drives, blanket giveaways and fully equipped back-to-school backpacks.
“I thought that was the coolest idea ever,” the Cherry Creek High School junior said of her parents’ suggestion six years ago to incorporate her passion with an all-kid board of directors. “We got a 501(c)3 when I was 11.”
Karshmer’s efforts have not gone unrecognized. The founder and president of the aptly nicknamed CK4K is one of National Liberty Museum’s 2017 Young Heroes Award recipients, as selected from among nearly 75 nominees. This week, she is in Philadelphia to join the other 11 recipients in claiming a certificate of recognition and medallion. A plaque telling her story will be displayed at the museum for a year.
“It can be kind of hard to volunteer at places because of the age limits they have, but I learned that even though I’m a kid there’s still such a huge difference I can make,” the nonprofit leader said. “I never thought I could make such a big difference in my little community.”
It was only after Karshmer’s aunt took her on a fateful birthday visit to a homeless shelter that the wheels started turning in her head.
“Little 6-year-old me was kind of shocked about how small the rooms were and just how much more lucky I was, just because I had all the things I wanted,” she said.
Before long, the girl’s birthday gift list included not just dolls and soccer equipment, but football helmets and camping gear and presents befitting other ages and interests. By the time she outgrew birthday parties altogether, Karshmer was ready to take it to the next level.
Among CK4K’s largest efforts is its annual school-supply drive, from which children in need can “shop” at the organization’s “store.”
“It’s all free of charge,” Karshmer explained. “But instead of just being handed a backpack with prepackaged supplies, we let them pick everything they want. We’re really hoping to empower them by giving them a choice.”
CK4K also hosts an annual holiday party for homeless kids at a local shelter and facilitates a year-round blankets program.
“Every time someone buys a blanket, we’ll donate one to a kid in a hospital or a homeless shelter,” Karshmer said.
As the teen president starts thinking about college and a possible career in pediatric medicine, she is mindful that she and the rest of the CK4K board [the youngest is an eighth-grader] cannot run the organization forever. But by the time Karshmer is forced to step down, she hopes to have a new generation of kids in place.
“One of the big things we’re trying to do right now is appeal to a bunch of younger kids because we know that in two years most of us will be going to college and not really kids anymore,” she said.
For more information, including how to donate, visit coloradokidsforkids.org.
2017 All Rights Reserved. Villager Publishing |