In honor of Make a Difference Day, many individuals nationwide are set to participate in community service Oct. 26.
However, many local organizations, such as the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation and Toys 4 Smiles, are dedicated to making a difference year-round.
CANDLELIGHTERS CHILDHOOD CANCER FOUNDATION OF NEVADA
In 1978, the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada was founded by two families facing childhood cancer.
“The families realized there would be children after them that would need the knowledge, resources and services that they received,” said Robin Kelley, development coordinator. “So they had this organization to share and help others after them.”
Candlelighters, 8990 Spanish Ridge Ave., offers about 25 programs and services to families and children diagnosed with cancer, including group therapy sessions, art projects and social events.
Financial assistance is also provided by the foundation, such as rent money, traveling costs, medical bills and burial costs.
“As you can imagine, it’s expensive to have a child with cancer,” Kelley said. “We try to help the best we can because we don’t want any barriers to our kids being able to see doctors or get treatment.”
The organization also plans to provide children and their families with parties and food baskets for the holidays.
“We try to offer whatever we can to our families to help make their journey a little smoother,” Kelley said.
However, the organization couldn’t function without support of community volunteers, according to Kelley.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Kelley said. “It’s really the love that they get. They really care about the kids.”
According to Kelley, the organization has about 600 active volunteers on its mailing list that help throughout the year.
Orientations are hosted about once a month for new volunteers. Applications can be completed online.
“We want it to be a happy place,” Kelley said. “The children need it to be a happy place.”
To donate or volunteer with Candlelighters, visit candlelightersnv.org or call 702-737-1919.
GOODIE TWO SHOES
Founded by Nikki and Tony Berti, the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation outfits disadvantaged children and children in crisis with new socks and shoes.
The organization started in 2003 as a one-day event on Make a Difference Day. By 2008, it transformed into a foundation.
“The more events we did, the more volunteers and more organizations came forward to lend their support,” Nikki Berti said. “A lot of the times, the growth just sort of facilitated itself.”
The Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, 3515 W. Post Road, Suite 105, serves about 10,000 children in Clark County through on-site school distributions.
During each event, approximately 400 children are partnered with community volunteers who help the children pick out a pair of shoes.
“We try to pick schools that haven’t been part of our program, but we also focus a lot on Title I schools,” Berti said. “We want to make sure we target the kids who are most in need.”
The foundation works with manufactures, partners and donors to supply children with shoes. According to Berti, the foundation also purchases products because finding enough donors to outfit 10,000 kids every year is difficult.
“We don’t accept any federal or state dollars,” she said. “Part of the reason is because we believe the community should support its own.”
Crystal Martinez, 21, has been interning with the organization for four years through a college scholarship program. She’s an elementary education student at UNLV and enjoys working with the children at the distribution events.
“It’s a very good experience,” Martinez said. “It’s exciting to see the children so happy. They always have a sense of pride in themselves, their shoes and the choice that they made.”
Martinez said she was touched when a little girl at a past distribution event said she had never received a new pair of socks.
“It’s a story that we hear a lot,” Martinez said, “but it’s also a story that doesn’t get told enough.”
The organization is set to outfit its 40,000th child this month, according to Berti.
“The purpose of our program is to empower the children with choice,” Berti said. “A lot of the children have never had a new pair of shoes, much less given the opportunity to pick their own shoes.”
The Goodie Two Shoes Foundation continually looks for volunteers to staff distribution events. The events are hosted two or three times per month and usually occur on a Friday morning.
“Everyone always seems so busy these days,” Martinez said, “but just taking three or four hours out of your day will make you so much more grateful for the things that you do have.”
To donate or volunteer with the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, visit goodietwoshoes.org or call 702-617-4027.
TOYS 4 SMILES
In 2005, Rex Doty founded Toys 4 smiles, a nonprofit organization that makes wooden toys for children of all ages.
Doty and a few friends set a goal to make 500 toys a year. Within seven years, the organization has completed 168,000 toys.
“The first 65,000 toys were made by five guys in their garages,” Doty said. “We used to joke with the kids and tell them the toys were used and had 25 miles on them already.”
Toys 4 Smiles, 3170 Polaris Ave., Unit 17, is run with the help of about 50 volunteers, but only about 20 volunteers show up every week.
“Nobody is on a schedule,” Doty said. “We just come and go when we want. It makes it a lot easier for everyone.”
Elmer Griggs has been volunteering with the organization twice a week for two years. He’s responsible for assembling the wheels and axles on each toy.
“I was part of the carpenter union for 60 years,” Griggs said. “I guess I just enjoy the sawdust and the splinters.”
Griggs, who retired about 20 years ago, said he comes to the shop to interact with the other volunteers.
“When you’re retired, all you do is sit around and watch TV or read the newspaper,” Griggs said. “I come for the camaraderie. I’ve met a lot of good friends volunteering.”
Each toy goes through an eight-step construction process. The toys are stenciled, cut, drilled, sanded, rounded out, branded, assembled and painted.
According to Doty, the process would take about eight minutes if done all at once.
“We keep it real simple so that anybody in the community can come on out here and help,” Doty said. “Volunteers don’t need any experience. We can train them on site.”
The organization has donated toys to many institutions, including the Clark County School District, the Las Vegas Rescue Mission and Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.
According to Doty, about 90 percent of all the toys are donated throughout Southern Nevada.
“Those are the kids I want to take care of first,” he said. “Everyone always asks what happens if I run out of children to give toys to. Well, then that would be a blessing.”
Toys 4 Smiles is continually looking for donations of supplies, money or volunteers. The foundation is also searching for a temperature-controlled building to keep the volunteers comfortable while working.
To donate or volunteer with Toys 4 Smiles, visit toys4smileslasvegas.org or call 702-232-8191.
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at 702-383-0403 or firstname.lastname@example.org.