Seventeen-year-old Xavier College Preparatory student and Paradise Valley resident Abbie Arnold had never written a grant proposal before.
But when it came time to pitch a volunteer project to her chapter of the Phoenix National Charity League, she had an idea for a program that was very close to her heart.
National Charity League is a philanthropic non-profit organization where mothers and daughters engage in community service and leadership development together. There are chapters and member across the country, including Phoenix.
Cathy Arnold and her daughter Abbie, joined the Phoenix chapter when Abbie was in sixth grade. A couple of years ago, their chapter chose the charity St. Vincent de Paul as a volunteer opportunity and many moms and daughters served meals in the Family Dining Room.
After that first visit, both Cathy and Abbie were hooked. They continued coming back every week to volunteer in the non-profit’s Dream Center program where low-income students are tutored and receive homework help during the free evening meal service.
“From the first day that I volunteered, the sign on the front of St. Vincent de Paul’s building really stood out to me,” Abbie says.
“It says ‘We Are One Family.’ After we continued volunteering in the Dream Center, I realized that one statement really summarizes everything that SVdP is, especially here in the Dream Center.”
During her time here, Abbie grew close to many of the children and SVdP’s Dream Center supervisor, Cynthia Bach. Not only has she helped tutor students, but she has assisted Cynthia with many projects and special activities.
“One thing I always noticed was how challenging the old bookshelves in the Dream Center were. With the amount of books the children were reading, the shelves (made out of particle board) began to cave in and were difficult to move for special events. To me, that always stood out as something that was needed in the Dream Center.”
So when Abbie’s senior NCL project approached, she knew she had to pitch this as an idea. For this project, all seniors in Abbie’s NCL chapter were encouraged to gather and propose ideas on how and where to spend their funding of $1,000.
Abbie says she was nervous to write and present the proposal because she had never done it before, but she soon found it was much easier than she thought.
“After all the time I had spent volunteering here, I felt so connected with everyone and wanted to leave something behind. When I started writing the proposal, it became about why this project matters and why others should feel that way too. I wanted the other girls to see how amazing this program is and why this was really needed. Suddenly the chance to share that became really exciting and significant,” she says.
After presenting her proposal, the class immediately voted and it was decided – St. Vincent de Paul’s Dream Center was the winning recipient.
Abbie’s initial proposal included purchasing new bookshelves and books, but it grew from there. In the end, 24 seniors and their mothers donated:
- Four large bookshelves with wheels
- Two library carts to house newly donated books
- Books from a book drive to create a ‘reference library’ in the Dream Center
- Library check out cards and stickers
- Brand new (and multiple copies of) books from Gardener Books to enhance the Dream Center library.
“It was a matter of where would our money be well spent,” says Abbie’s mother Cathy Arnold. “We wanted to support what SVdP is doing with an emphasis on reading comprehension.”
After everything was purchased and donated, the NCL chapter chose a Saturday to build the new shelves and create the library system. The seniors and their mothers spent several hours putting together the shelves, punching out the stickers and adhering the library check out cards to label and organize more than 500 books in the new library.
Dream Center supervisor, Cynthia Bach, says SVdP is so grateful for the generosity of the Phoenix National Charity League.
“Over 40 moms and daughters were here on a Saturday to make this happen. The bookshelves, library carts, and new books with library cards have made it seamless for children to access and check out their own grade level books,” she says.
“Their gift has ensured the preservation of our books and made it possible for the continued love of reading among the Dream Center kids.”
Abbie, the senior who started it all, plans on studying secondary education English and creative writing when she attends college next fall.
While she has always had a passion for stories and readings, she says she didn’t realize the importance of it until working in the Dream Center with the students.
“It’s amazing watching a child learn how to pronounce a word or read a sentence,” she says. “Being a part of transferring that knowledge to a child has been incredible. I’m so lucky to be a part of it and I feel that everyone here has become like family to me.”
Editor’s Note: Esther Martinez is a public relations manager for St. Vincent de Paul.