When meeting Alyssa Barocas you would never guess that the shy, soft-spoken thirteen-year-old is a powerhouse of fundraising and public relations. However, the eighth grade student at Gulf Coast Academy raised almost $10,000 for the Dawn Center (a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence). The project started as an assignment given to her Social Studies class by their teacher, Sandra Brown.
The purpose of the ‘Pay it Forward’ project was to teach the students something about social responsibility and to let them put the skills they learned in their other classes to practical use. To get the project off the ground, representatives from several local not-for profit organizations came to speak to all 8th grade classes in her school. Then the students chose an organization to help. The next step was to come up with a fundraising idea, write a letter to the organization, and get the group’s approval for the fundraiser. The goal of each student was to raise $100 for their particular non-profit. “I chose the Dawn Center because I wanted to help those who were affected by sexual and domestic violence because I feel this is an important issue,” Alyssa stated.
She decided to organize “Ride for the Dawn.” Her father, Stephen, rides a Harley, so he enlisted the help of his biker pals to support the fundraiser. Then he contacted his friends, John and Dori Dolci who own the Drunken Mullet on Hernando Beach to have the event at their restaurant. They even donated some of the food and prepared it with their staff. Alyssa and other volunteers served the food and collected money. In the course of the three months that she spent from start to finish on the project, Alyssa estimates she put in over fifty hours. She also utilized many skills that she had learned in school. Ms. Brown taught the students how to put together a PowerPoint presentation. In Tech class they composed the email to the charity for its approval of the project. She put into practice the writing and grammar instruction she learned in Language Arts. The pupils learned how to do spreadsheets to track their expenses and the amount of money they collected. Alyssa even hand-wrote thank you notes to everyone that helped with the event. They were required to put together a binder with photos and copies of all the correspondence and other materials.
Two weeks ago, because of the astounding amount of money she raised, Ms. Brown asked Alyssa to give an oral presentation about her charity event. To get more people involved, Alyssa decided to open it up to everyone, not just bikers. Anyone could drive up to the restaurant, buy a meal and drinks. Alyssa, Stephen and Stephen’s girlfriend, Sue Krenitsky passed out flyers at restaurants and other businesses, posted on social media sites, put donation jars in a couple of places and used good old fashioned “word of mouth” to get the word out. She also got people to donate clothing, toiletries and other items for the residents of the Dawn Center. Before long, donations were piling up in their garage. In fact there were so many that April Johnson, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Dawn Center, had to take the seats out of a van to haul them back to the shelter.
The final monetary value of the donations, including a wedding dress and an original painting by a local artist came to $6,480.75. Cash and checks from individuals and businesses amounted to another $2,067. The food, beverages, plates and other supplies, along with the costs of printing up the flyers were all donated to the cause, so everything was pure profit.
On the day of the actual Ride-In/Drive-In, October 20, approximately fifty bikers and many people in other vehicles showed up at the Drunken Mullet to enjoy pulled-pork sandwiches and fixings. By the end of the day, the amount of the food sales totaled $360, bringing the final tally for the fundraiser to $9,652.75 – far surpassing the original $100 goal.
Ms. Johnson stated, “Alyssa and her family have been such great supporters of Dawn Center programs and survivors in our community. The majority of the money she raised will go directly into our program budget to be used for the programs that support survivors. With an admin rate of less than 5% and supporting almost 2000 people a year in our programs, it will go so far.”
In fact, the Dawn Center was so impressed by her results, that they have asked her to make this an annual fundraising event. Next year, because this will not be part of a school project in which she was required to do all the work herself, Alyssa will be able to ask for help from other people. There’s no telling how much money will be raised.
Ms. Brown, Alyssa’s teacher, commented, “I’m very proud of Alyssa and all the students in their efforts to help the hungry, homeless and needy. In the seven years that I’ve been doing the Pay it Forward Project, Alyssa’s project has raised the most funds.”
Alyssa would like to thank publicly the countless people for the help they gave. She especially wants to thank John and Dori Dolci, the owners at The Drunken Mullet for providing the location, the food and their staff who helped cook; Josh Hanoud Realty Team, who donated part of his real estate commission to match funds that two clients donated to the cause ($700 total); Leslie Neumann who donated a painting valued at $350; and Sue Krenitsky for donating a wedding dress worth $450.
Alyssa is modest about her achievement. When asked if she wanted to say anything about her accomplishment, she stated simply, “I feel happy that I was able to raise the money I did and I hope it helps. I want to tell them [victims of sexual and domestic violence] to stay strong and it will get better.”
For more information on the Dawn Center go to https://www.dawncenter.org/ or call (352) 684-7191