The 2009 winner of the Watauga County Community Foundation’s Spirit of Philanthropy Award didn’t go to the traditional tireless volunteer, community leader or generous soul with deep pockets, although several were nominated. The award was bestowed on not one but six amazing girls from Valle Crucis Elementary School who range in age from 10 to 12.

The WCCF wanted to recognize the girls’ work as founders of A.P.E. (Animals, People, Environment), which raises and distributes funds to nonprofits that champion those causes. “We were so excited to win this award because we were the first kids, and it’s not just a kid thing,” said A.P.E. President Cami Hastings, 11, who founded the group after being inspired by A Kid’s Guide to Giving, by Freddie Zeiter and Ward Schumaker. (A.P.E. also later went on to win regional honors as recipients of the Young Philanthropy Award through the Northwest North Carolina Chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals.)

The girls’ work came to WCCF President Bettie Bond’s attention when she attended a lecture at Appalachian State University to hear Greg Mortenson, whose inspirational book Three Cups of Tea tells of his work to build schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the dire need came to his attention after a failed attempt to climb K2. The girls had read the book and voted to donate $1,000 of their hard-earned funds to his Pennies for Peace program.

Mortenson was reportedly “amazed” at how young the girls were and impressed with their generous donation, as was Bond, who nominated them for the Watauga affiliate’s fourth annual philanthropy award. “They were an inspiration to me, and I knew their work deserved attention,” Bond said.

The girls received a $500 grant from the WCCF to award to their favorite charities, which included Valle Crucis Elementary School, Valle Crucis Park and Heifer International.

The advent of summer means the girls’ work intensifies. Most of their money is earned selling baked goods, lemonade and ice cream at Valle Crucis Park, which nets 10 percent of their proceeds sold at weekly Friday-night concerts held throughout the summer. The girls also earn money for their causes by walking dogs and caring for pets. They have proclaimed a grant goal of $2,010 for the year 2010 and are soliciting funding ideas on their website.

In addition to Hastings, founding members of the winning A.P.E. group are Emma Carder, Olivia Handley, Barbara Ramsdell, Bailey Shuford and Olivia Waters. The group has since grown to include Finley Collins, Elizabeth Heaton and Addison Martin. While all girls, the group is “not gender discriminating,” according to Hastings. “If boys want to come in, we’re going to let them,” she said.

When asked if the girls were inspired by their parents or vice versa, Hastings said it was “a little bit of both.”

“A lot of our parents are active in the community, and a lot of parents do give their time and their money,” Hastings said. “We’ve partly learned from them, and they’ve partly learned from us, I guess.”

Cutline on home page: A.P.E. founding members, L-R: Olivia Waters, Cami Hastings, Olivia Handley, Emma Carder, Bailey Shuford and Barbara Ramdsell.

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