When Therese Vailakis of Garnerville adopted her now 9-year-old son Dimitri from Russia in 2007, she knew she wanted to teach him about being charitable. "I wanted him to learn how we do things over here," says Vailakis. "How we help people out."
On May 6, Dimitri and two friends, sisters 9-year-old Amilinda and 8-year-old Mia Rivera of Haverstraw, handed over a $500 check to the Rockland Community College Campus Fun and Learn Center, the largest sum ($2,400 in total plant sales) since the group's fundraising endeavors began in 2009.
Initially inspired by a church-organized flower sale, Vailakis shared the idea of holding a plant fundraiser with her coworker, Melanie Rivera. The two got their children on board with the project, and since then the three children have raised money through plant sales for nonprofit organizations Keep Rockland Beautiful, Community Action Partnership, and Haverstraw Arts Alliance. "We do it to help people so they don't have to be poor and homeless anymore," says Dimitri of the plant sales, which are now held each spring and fall.
While the group of five all work together to sell flowers to family members, neighbors, friends, and teachers in their communities, the children take charge of setting up and organizing the plants at the West Haverstraw Community Center, connecting buyers with their purchases, and loading the flowers into vehicles at pick-up time.
"My favorite thing is that we are helping people in our community," says Mia. Amilinda agrees with her sister, saying, "I think it's a good idea that we are helping out people. I want it to get bigger and bigger and bigger." As their children talk excitedly about giving to a good cause, both moms make sure the kids understand the true benefits of volunteerism. "I always tell them it's not about getting people to notice what you're doing. It's nice when someone notices, but that's not what it's about," says Rivera, "It's good to give, even if it's a little bit."