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Ron Fitzsimmons: Founder and Executive Director of Alice’s Kids

Alice’s Kids is all about helping kids in poverty with targeted financial assistance. Individuals submit requests on behalf of kids for things like clothes, school fees, soccer balls, laptops, and books, and Alice’s Kids sends out gift cards to pay for what kids need. Ron started Alice’s Kids with his sister as a way to pay homage to their mother, Alice, who went above and beyond to make them feel good about themselves despite their financial status.

Can you talk about the relationship between poverty and self esteem?

In the early 1960s, my father abandoned my family and left us high and dry. We were on welfare for about 4 years while living in a middle class neighborhood. After a few months of being on welfare, my sister and I really felt the impact. We couldn’t wash our clothes, go on field trips, or join Little League. We were targeted by our classmates for having holes in our pants and became the designated welfare family. I missed 67 days of school in 9th grade because I was too ashamed to go. My self esteem was in the toilet. Running out of food or heat was difficult, but sitting in the bleachers because I couldn’t afford my gym uniform was unbearable. Every once in a while, my mom would pick up extra money cleaning houses or other odd jobs. She would take us to the local department store to pick up a new sweater or record— anything to help make us feel normal. My sister and I wanted to run to school the next day to show off our new Converse sneakers or shirt. The goal of Alice’s Kids is to give kids a similar lift so that they can feel comfortable around their peers.

What are some of your common requests?

We serve kids around the country. Teachers, social workers, police staff, and other professionals can fill out a request form online, it takes about 5 minutes. We just want to know the story, we don’t need a name or any income information. About 50% of our requests are for clothes. Recently, we had a request for new shoes because a young boy was wearing his father’s welding boots to school that were far too big and his classmates were making fun of him for having “clown shoes”. There’s lots of requests for school uniforms, athletic gear, and interview clothes. There’s also monetary requests to pay for sports team fees, SAT prep classes, college application fees, books, and laptops.

What has the experience been like helping kids who are in the position you once were?

I’ve had two or three careers but this is easily the best work I’ve ever done. I was supposed to retire a few years ago when we started this, and now it’s a national charity with almost a million dollar budget. It’s taken over my world in the best way. Reading the requests can be emotionally exhausting because the stories just never end. I recently read a request for new clothes because a young girl’s father was killed in her home and they used her clothes to clean up the blood. I sent her a $300 gift card, which doesn’t fix the trauma but helps with the immediate issue of needing new clothes. On the other hand, reading the thank you letters we get from recipients totally lifts me up. It’s a great experience to work on, I’m so glad we came up with the idea.

What is your favorite part of your job?

We get thousands of requests each year and I get to read every one of them. The most fun part is when I see a request and respond “approve”. Our partners ensure that the gift card is distributed to the recipient within 48 hours of approval, so I know that as soon as I hit “approve” there are gift cards flying all around the country. It’s really cool, I get to feel like Santa Claus everyday. I also enjoy fundraising and communicating with people about this issue. Every morning, I post a request on Twitter to share the story and help get donations. People are so willing to help when it comes to this topic, which is wonderful. I want people to understand the effects of poverty that aren’t talked about as much but have a real, long lasting impact, and social media helps me get that message out.


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