Two South Jersey theater enthusiasts raise money to supply underprivileged youth with school supplies
In two days, two people raised $1,055 (and counting) to buy backpacks and school supplies for less-fortunate South Jersey kids.
Both have danced and sung in front of massive crowds and both have dreams of Broadway, Los Angeles and beyond.
Both are 12 and both have faced the confidence-shredding force that is bullying.
One was born with two holes in her heart: Kenikki Thompson from Sicklerville. Nikki, her mother, said one of those holes closed on its own and the other was plugged.
“But we say the one that was plugged was filled with glitter because somehow she has such an extraordinary heart and cares for everyone,” she said.
Thompson’s friend and partner in raising money for the backpacks and school supplies is Mitchell Savitsky from Washington Township.
His mother, Mandy, said, “I am inspired by my own son. I am inspired by Kenikki.”
The two young performers met three years ago during theater camp at Main Stage Center for the Arts in Gloucester Township.
When they met, they were strangers with backgrounds and interests closely aligned, and theater was the force that brought them together.
Both were coming off school years packed with bullying. Savitsky’s worst moment was yet to come. Later during the next school year, he was physically assaulted by a classmate similar in age, his mother said.
Made fun of for his dancing interests and Thompson for her affinity for theater, both children took solace in performing arts.
“[Theater] gives me the ability to express myself through song and dance,” Thompson said.
Savitsky echoed this sentiment and even reflected on his young life leading up to the climatic bullying event. He said, “I felt really confident in myself even though the bullying continued.”
The misguided behavior of others has yet to cripple these children as they continue to sing, dance and perform in any way possible. Savitsky has performed on Nickelodeon programs and was featured in a music video with high-profile rapper Macklemore.
However, while these two children light up the stage, they both stress that what is more important is self-empowerment and community service.
The idea to donate backpacks and school supplies to local, underprivileged youth was Thompson’s.
“I am getting ready for the school year, and I already have my school supplies, and then I think about the other kids who don’t have stuff like me,” she said.
Thompson worked with a local organization last year on a similar project and told her mother, “I want to do it.”
“I try not to say ‘no,’” her mother said, mentioning the goal was to raise $1,000 for 100 bags and supplies. Now, after just two days, the goal is to reach $2,000.
The backpacks will go to multiple nonprofits in the area that assist South Jersey families with supplying children with everyday needs.
Along with projects such as “Get On Track With New Backpacks,” both children take to social media and create videos explaining why bullying and helping others is important for people their age and even adults.
Savitsky uses the hash tag #beuniquelyyou and tweets messages such as: “Always remember to be kind, spread love and not hate, don’t spread negativity, and remember that real change can start with you! The power of one!”
On March 15, Thompson won the Kenny Suttner Award given by Bianca’s Kids.
The award is given to youth who “take a stand” against bullying. The award is named after Kenny Suttner, a 17-year-old Missouri teen who took his life due to bullying.
Thompson said she feels she was bullied partially due to her interests in theater but also due to her positive personality but feels the problem all people face is the bystander, the ones who do nothing about bullying.
“I was bullied because I was kind, and it really hurt. Knowing others took their lives hurts, and I want to stand up for them and make a change,” she said.
Performing arts, positive messaging through social media and engaging in projects such as “Get On Track With New Backpacks” are things both children agree can help themselves be confident in themselves and at the same time, help others.
“Being kind is cool,” they both said.
To done visit https://gofundme.com/get-on-track-with-new-backpacks.