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Sixth Grader Collects For Rucker Shelter

Alicia Harder sits at the table eating her lunch while her brother and his friend play video games in the other room and her parents unpack some groceries.

It is a typical Saturday afternoon at the Harders' Reston home that can be repeated in any household across the county. The difference is Alicia, 11, is not necessarily a typical sixth grader.

In late April, Alicia, a student at Buzz Aldrin Elementary School, was honored by the county Board of Supervisors for raising $10,000 for the Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston, an endeavor she began when she was around 7 years old.

"When I was in second grade, my mom said I should do a holiday cookie swap. I gave the extra cookies to the shelter," Alicia said. "My mom had friends who heard about it and thought I should ask people to donate money."

ALICIA, WITH HER MOM, Lisa Harder's, help, began holding an annual holiday party. Each December, neighborhood friends, classmates and Girl Scout buddies receive invitations hand-made by Alicia. The children are asked to bring a dozen cookies and the adults make pledges based on the number of the tasty treats collected — typically, around 50 cents per dozen. In addition, the Harders have a family friend in Seattle who matches the donations collected each year. The cookies and the cash are then donated to the shelter.

The first year Alicia solicited the donations, the cookie swap earned $100. Last year, the event drew 75 children bearing about 40 to 50 dozen cookies and raised $4,000.

"Some of the cookies are really beautiful. People were agreeable to making cookies," said Lisa Harder, who is a member of the nonprofit Charity Works. "And the money just grew. It just grew over time. The idea of collecting cookies for the shelter was Alicia's idea."

The party has grown into such an event that last year high-school students volunteered time to organize arts and crafts, supervise games and generally help keep the children busy in the basement while the adults mingled upstairs. In addition, a videographer captured everything on film and there was someone drawing caricatures.

"I plan to keep having the parties," Alicia said. "It's just really, really fun."

AFTERWARDS, ALICIA and her mom drop off the cookies at the shelter.

"It takes careful packing of the car," Lisa Harder said.

Alicia said she decided to collect money for the shelter was as simple as, "it was the only place I saw in Reston that needed help."

Getting her award was another thing. The Harders were contacted by someone in the county's Office of Public Affairs, saying Alicia had been recommended for the honor. The young girl was presented a plaque by the supervisors at the beginning of their April 18 meeting. According to a county press release, Alicia is the youngest cash contributor to the shelter.

"It was really scary. I was nervous and excited," Alicia said.

The plaque has yet to be hung, but Alicia has already decided it will be in her room.