Madison Nonprofit Connects Kids to Age-Appropriate Charities

The Student Wish List Project equips younger children with resources and skills needed to volunteer meaningfully in their communities.

Student Wish List Project
SWLP volunteers Brendan Armstrong and Clare Culligan loading up donations in Madison. Courtesy of Student Wish List Project

For younger children eager to give back to their communities, volunteer opportunities can often be scarce. The vast majority of hospitals, soup kitchens and animal shelters have age requirements for volunteering. That limits involvement to high school and college students.

The Student Wish List Project (SWLP), launched in September 2018, aims to get kids involved in age-appropriate charity projects sooner. Madison resident Tania Lee saw the need with her own two sons, Jackson and Max, now 12 and 15. The family had a tradition of conducting donation drives to reduce an abundance of birthday gifts, a model she used to build the foundation of SWLP.

The organization pairs students with partner charities, many of them local, including the Verona-based Backpacks for Life, Covenant House in Newark, Moms Helping Moms in Plainfield, Saint Peter’s Orphanage in Denville, and JBWS, a domestic violence–and abuse-prevention agency based in Morris County. 

Student volunteers choose an affiliated nonprofit, and then SWLP helps them organize online donation drives and build wish lists on Amazon, where they independently monitor and track donations based on the charity’s needs. To date, SWLP has facilitated more than $40,000 in material donations—everything from clothing and backpacks to diapers and groceries.

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Chatham resident Besma Al-Humadi Bedri, co-leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, contacted SWLP while researching ways for the scouts to earn their community-service badges. The organization helped the girls develop a collection drive and also organized a tour of Homeless Solutions in Morris County, their chosen charity.

“We loved [the experience] so much that our family has started doing fundraisers,” says Al-Humadi Bedri, whose 5-year-old and 10-year-old recently helped organize a drive for the International Rescue Committee. “During this time, when everyone is so driven to excel in sports and academics, they forget to look around beyond their privileged lives,” adds Al-Humadi Bedri. “SWLP filled a need for our community with a platform for kids of all ages.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, SWLP saw a new need for educational entertainment for kids who were homebound and learning remotely. So Lee began gathering a collection of story-time videos, in which student volunteers read children’s books.

“Right now, a lot of people are looking to give back to the community, not only because of the coronavirus crisis, but also the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Lee. “Hopefully we can help students and kids in their efforts.”

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