Making A Difference: Stories of Hope and Help is inspired by NPR’s Story Corps, and produced at KSMU in cooperation with, and support from, the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.
Voice of 16 year old Reeds Spring Missouri resident Sophia Greenwalt: “I remember when I started Helping Hats, and I was in the 6th grade. I just wanted an idea to help others, to help the community.”
Homebound for the last 2 years while undergoing treatments for Leukemia, Reeds Spring Junior Sophia Greenwalt has earned a 4.0 grade average, and kept active her Helping Hats program whereby once a month, Reeds Spring students, faculty and staff pay $1 for the privilege of wearing a hat to school. Since Sophia created Helping Hats 5 years ago, the program has raised over $50,000 for charities chosen by Greenwalt, and distributed to those non-profits by long time Reeds Spring School administrator and current Community Foundation of the Ozarks Board member Jim Holt.
Sophia Greenwalt and Jim Holt recently reunited to record this installment of Making a Difference; Stories of Hope and Help.
Sophia Greenwalt: “People love to wear hats, especially kids. And since students weren’t allowed to wear hats in school I thought of the idea of Helping Hats and approached the Principal of my school. I went into the office and I was nervous because I was only in the 6th grade and had never done anything like that till then. They said it was good to go, so I organized Helping Hats on the 1st Friday of each month when students would pay a dollar to wear the hats at school. I had chosen a different organization each month the money would go to, and that’s when I met Jim Holt.”
Jim Holt: “I think the first Hat Day, I came over to visit with you a little bit and to take a few pictures. I was just amazed at the number of kids wearing hats in that building. And all sorts of hats, Sophie I remember you had on a Sombrero on.”
Sophia Greenwalt: Yeah, we had some pretty crazy hats. From silly to sporty the kids would wear to school. That's when we became friends and started working together.”
Jim Holt: “And that’s when I first heard about this idea and first heard about you. I thought this is a unique opportunity because we were trying to find ways to get the school more involved in the community, and Helping Hats fit the bill as far as that’s concerned.”
SG: Yeah we did many organizations like Red Cross. We raised over $20,000 for them and celebrities donated. We did the Backpack Program where students take a backpack of food home for the weekend, and The Ozark Honor Flights where Veterans visit the memorials in Washington D.C.”
JH: “And it was easy to be able to work through our school foundation and the CFO to get that money where it needed to go. Usually once the money was collected, it was transferred to the Reeds Spring School Foundation, where we would get the check out. Sophia, I’ve always said that through that period of time, really worked for you in a lot of respects, because you would come up with all these ideas!”
SG: “I like to go on the internet and look up organizations around the area and pick the ones that need it the most.”
JH: That’s what always amazed me, is how you would be able to find all these different charities and sometimes we even had people contacting you wanting to get on that list.”
SG: Yeah, Yeah, there were different ideas that even kids brought up for the needs of the community. A big one was after the Joplin tornado. We did a Helping Hats Day for that and raised $10,000 and busloads of supplies and care packages of bottled water and stuff like that.”
JH: “That was about a week after that tornado hit. There were a lot of schools not in session at that point because it was late May, but we traditionally went a little later that others but I think that was a good thing because it was amazing how much money and clothing and so-forth was donated just through that effort. Sophie, one thing you did that impressed me was getting these businesses to get involved.”
SG: “Yeah, I approached a lot of businesses in the area. Each month I would have a business match the amount raised. So far, every business has said yes and I’m very happy about that.”
JH: “I think we might even have a few businesses on the waiting list to get involved. Sophie, I think Helping Hats is a program that can be maintained over the years. Your brother Matthew often times would stand in when you couldn’t be there. Of course with your treatments you had to get over the last few years it was just great how he was always willing to fill in. He didn’t back off from any of that, so I think he’s be one to certainly pick up the mantle.”
SG: “He’s a 6th grader now, the age I started Helping Hats. He wants to continue it after I graduate, and I feel great about that.”
JH: It’s just amazing to me that we could raise the money we did to help a lot of different folks, and not just folks in this area. A lot of the charities and organizations you targeted that money for, were regional and even a national organization and in my 38 years in public schools, this is certainly one of the highlights for me.”
SG: My friends and all the students at my school, even the younger kids, they just had a fun time wearing hats. I think I inspired them to make new ideas of how to help the community. Even kids talk to me and pitch ideas to me on how they could help others. I thought that was really neat and they said they were inspired by what I’ve been doing. I thought it was going to be just some little thing I could do, but it was a big impact, bigger that I ever imagined.”
16 YEAR OLD Reeds Spring Junior Sophia Greenwalt. For her efforts with Helping Hats, Greenwalt was, while in the 7th grade, honored with a Red Cross Everyday Heroes Award. In the 8th grade, Sophia was named a state and national honoree in Prudential’s Spirit of Community Scholarship Award Program, and earlier this year, Sophia Greenwalt was presented the first ever Philanthropy Award from the Rural Schools Partnership.
Making a Difference; Stories of Hope and Help is produced at KSMU in cooperation with and support from The Community Foundation of the Ozarks. For information, www.cfozarks.org For KSMU, I’m Mike Smith.