By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Like any other kid a couple of weeks before her 10th birthday, Jesse Levine was thinking about her wish list. She knew her family and friends would want some guidance about which gifts to buy her, but she was having trouble coming up with suggestions. Something else was on her mind.
“I was thinking, not everybody gets to celebrate their birthday happily,” the Vrooman Avenue resident said later, remembering the moment. “Some kids are in the hospital, or they don’t get presents.”
At the time, Jesse was riding in the car with her mom, Carolyn. The thought was really troubling her, so she spoke up. She suggested maybe, for her birthday, people could donate the money they would’ve spent on a present to charity, instead.
Her mom was supportive and the idea grew. Instead of just giving once, they thought, what if they could create something that would have an impact into the future?
“I thought, why not make it more than just me?” said Jesse, who is now 11 and attends the Hebrew Academy of the Capital District in Albany.
She started to dream up a plan. She would call her project 10sGive10, and she would focus on encouraging kids to donate $10 to a charity on their 10th birthdays. In addition to directing money to important nonprofit organizations, Jesse hoped to teach other young people that it’s possible to make a positive difference for others, no matter what their age.
Jesse has great role models for this sort of project. Her two older brothers, Ari, 16, and Noah, 17, who both attend Niskayuna High School, participate in lots of community service. For example, a few years ago, Ari organized a bike-a-thon through Niskayuna to raise money for breast cancer research in memory of an aunt who battled the disease. He planned the route, recruited other riders and set up a website to gather donations.
“[Ari and Noah] doing community service helped me with the idea,” Jesse said of her website.
Even with great examples to follow, Jesse said she struggled to find ways to help out in the community. Many volunteer organizations have age restrictions in place.
But donating is an easy way to have an impact, especially with 10sGive10. It took Jesse and her mom about six months to design a website and take it live, but their work paid off: 10sgive10.com is easy to navigate, and the work of researching a great nonprofit is already done.
“You need to know how to type on a computer, but you can get somebody to help you with that,” Jesse said.
The “charities” page on the site lists four options: Room to Read, Girls Inc., Make a Wish America and the Malala Fund. Jesse said researching which groups to feature was one of her favorite parts of the project.
“I chose charities that revolve around kids, so when you turn 10 you give $10 to other kids,” she said.
Most recently, she added the Malala Fund after learning about teenage Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt and won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.
“I’ve always really looked up to her,” Jesse said. She’s even read Yousafzai’s book, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
Jesse said she’s not exactly sure how many people have visited her website or used it to donate. She and her mom don’t handle the donations; they just use the site as a way to educate people and direct them to charities that help children.
A poll at the bottom of the donation page asks people to voluntarily say which charity they chose. At least 11 people have donated so far since the site was completed this past January, although the number is probably higher, since people don’t have to respond to the poll before they donate.
Jesse also presented the idea to her fifth-grade class, when most kids were in between their ninth and 10th birthdays. She says she talks about 10sGive10 all the time, to her teachers, classmates, friends and anyone else who will listen.
Jesse dreams of becoming an architect someday and creating an environmentally sustainable home that anyone can afford. When she talks about helping others, a smile spreads across her face, and she shrugs her shoulders up to her ears like she can barely contain her happiness.
“It’s not just in your community. It’s really around the world,” Jesse said. “Just because you’re young or small doesn’t mean you can’t impact the world.”