It was through a fundraising event called “Mountains of Mittens” at my children’s school, that I first met Alec Cahaney. The Brownie and Girl Scout troops from around the area were involved in helping Alec collect over 7,000 pairs of mittens for the Salvation Army. When Alec began to address the crowd about his mission, it was then that I realized I had to know more about this teen and his inspiring story.
I had a chance to catch up with Alec recently and we had a conversation about his fundraising efforts and his dreams for the future. According to Alec, his love of giving started in his elementary years in the Cub Scouts. Alec’s mom was his den leader and as a group they did many fundraising and service projects for their community. After fifth grade when Cub Scouts ended, his parents encouraged him to continue doing community service. With their help, Alec researched many charities and decided on the Make-A-Wish Foundation because it involved granting wishes to sick kids. To help raise money for this charity, Alec set up a barbeque grill in his driveway and started selling hot dogs with his own special “bun soaker” sauce. He called it the “All-Star Grill” project. It didn’t take long for word to get around. He made $500.00 that summer. Alec recalls, “When I heard that the money raised helped to send a little boy to the Mall of America, which was his wish, I was hooked.” Alec ran his “All-Star Grill” for two more years, dedicating his summers to fundraising for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In 2003, when Alec was ten-years old, he learned about another fundraising opportunity, the Salvation Army Bed and Bread Club. He donated his birthday money, $125.00, to Dick Purtan’s Radiothon, which helps raise money for the club. When his mom took him to hand in his donation, Alec learned more about the program and wanted to help. He started fundraising for the Bed and Bread Club in 2004 and over the years has hosted six fundraisers for them, raising thousands of dollars. Because of his generous support, one week before his 14th birthday, Alec was invited to ride on the Salvation Army’s Bed and Bread Truck. This program delivers meals every day of the year to the streets of the least advantaged neighborhoods in the Detroit area. Alec and his dad took his first ride together and they have been riding together ever since. When asked about his experience Alec said, “… being out on the truck, meeting the homeless face to face and seeing how much they appreciated the food they were given, for some, their only meal of the day, gave me the most incredible feeling I have ever had. I was happy, sad, and humbled all at once. But most of all I felt like I was really doing something to help, something personal.”
One thing Alec noticed while riding the truck in the winter was that most of the people served did not have any gloves and their hands were so cold that some were having difficulty holding their food. Wanting to change this was his inspiration for his “Mountains of Mittens” project in 2008. “This was such a great project in so many ways. The Brownie and Girl Scout troops and schools that participated were incredible to work with and the project could not have been a success without them,” he said. “The best part was Thanksgiving weekend……. everyone who came to the truck that day got a pair of gloves or mittens with their meal. To say they were grateful would be an understatement.”
Along with his community service work, Alec has many interests in life. He is an avid sports fan and is a sophomore at Royal Oak High School where he plays goalie for JV lacrosse and special teams for football. Like most teens his age, he loves playing video games and hanging out with his friends. Last summer Alec was an extra in a movie “The Myth of the American Sleepover” which was filmed in Michigan. “I really enjoyed every aspect of this experience so I auditioned for another movie a few weeks ago and I just got called back for a second reading… I would really like to have a speaking part in this movie but would happily accept any part offered to me.” Alec also told me that he just received his drivers license and “driving is quickly becoming one of my favorite hobbies.”
After learning more about Alec’s community service efforts, I had to wonder, “When does an active 16-year-old have time to volunteer?” Alec feels that service work is one of his biggest outlets. “I enjoy it as much as I enjoy shooting hoops, running a trail, or going to a park and throwing the football around. It feels so great to know that I have made a difference in someone’s life and when I get to interact directly with those less fortunate, when they thank me for something as simple as passing them a sandwich or cup of hot chocolate, I am humbled.”
Alec’s parents were very involved in his early charity work and taught him that “it is better to give than to receive.” With their help, Alec was able to achieve many of his fundraising goals. This gave him the idea to create a mentoring program for young kids interested in fundraising or service projects. Alec is planning a series of workshops this summer to teach kids the techniques of fundraising. “There are so many things that I have learned over the last six years that I want to share ... how to pick a charity, how to get donations from local businesses, how to set a goal and plan a budget, how to get the word out about an event, and of course, how to plan an event that people will want to come to.”
When we think about the future of the planet and worry begins to set in, it is stewards like Alec that give us hope. But all of us are stewards of this planet and can help in some way. “As a part of the human race, I hope the work I do will inspire others to get involved and help make a difference. Everybody has something to give. It could be as simple as a listening ear, a little time spent with someone in need, lending a hand on a team project, or a monetary donation. If we all gave of ourselves we would become a more loving, caring, nation. If everybody got involved, we could make this a much better place to live.”
After talking with Alec, I certainly felt a newfound motivation and I wondered what else I could be doing to help make the world a better place. When I asked Alec what he would like people to know about the work that he does, his response was, “The work I do is solely from the heart.”…It only takes one person to make a difference. If everyone did just one thing, one act of kindness, it would turn “mine” to “ours” and “self” to “others.” It only takes one person to make a difference, and that person could be you. Pass it on.”
Alec is planning a series of workshops in Clawson, MI this summer called “Kids Stepping Out” for kids 7 and up. These workshops will cover all aspects of fundraising from a kid’s perspective. June 22-25th, June 29 - July 2nd and July 20 - 23rd. For more information and reservations call 248.577.9981